Did you know men with pre-existing mental health conditions are four times more likely to experience problems during the transition to parenthood? Well, it’s true.

New research by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) shows that men with a history of adolescent and young adult common mental health problems were more than four times more likely to experience mental health problems during their partner’s pregnancy.

This research builds on previous findings that show that one in ten men experience mental health problems during their partner’s pregnancy.

This new research shows that for a majority of new fathers, mental health problems during a partner’s pregnancy are a continuation of similar problems often dating back to adolescence.

Emotional problems during a partner’s pregnancy tend to continue after the birth of the child, which can affect the baby, the mother and the father’s ability to care for their child. As these babies grow up they are in turn at risk of emotional and behavioral problems.

Experts say that we also need to attend to the mental health of men before they become parents.

The team at MCRI examined the extent to which common mental disorders in the decades prior to conception predicted men’s mental health problems during their partner’s pregnancy. The study, published in 2018 in the British Journal of Psychiatry Open, used data from a 20-year, two-generation study that assessed common mental health problems nine times from age 14-29 years, and then in the third trimester of subsequent pregnancies to age 35 years.

Elizabeth Spry is the Lead author and Researcher at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute based at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.

We were lucky enough to ask Elizabeth a few questions about the study, here’s what she had to say:

 

Q1: This seems like a very interesting study, what prompted MCRI to conduct it?

We focus a lot on mums’ mental health during pregnancy and after their child is born, but we often forget about dads. Yet many men can also find becoming a parent a challenging time, and one in ten expecting fathers experience mental health problems. We wanted to understand who is more likely to find this transition difficult, to help policy-makers and clinicians to support those who need it the most.

 

Q2: The new research shows that for a majority of new fathers, mental health problems during a partner’s pregnancy are a continuation of similar problems often dating back to adolescence.

What should parents of adolescent boys be aware of to help stop it occurring to them later in life?

We found that teenage boys who have mental health problems that resolve fairly quickly are less likely to experience similar mental health problems when they later become parents, compared with teenagers whose mental health problems go on for longer. So intervening early is really important. It can often be hard for parents to identify when their teenage sons are experiencing anxiety or depression because it doesn’t always look like what we’d expect – we suggest looking out for signs like seeming angry, irritable or tired. Keeping lines of communication open is important, though it can be challenging; ensuring that boys have someone that they trust and can talk to. School counselors or your family GP can be a good source of information and advice if you think that something’s up.

 

Q3: What are the main contributing factors why men experience mental health problems in their transition to parenthood?

Our research suggests that men with previous mental health problems are more susceptible to the stresses of new fatherhood, but there are many other things that might trigger mental health problems for dads. These include financial stress, physical health problems, and what is happening in their relationship including conflict with their partner. There is also evidence that having good social support networks can help reduce mental health problems for new dads.

 

Q4: What type of adolescent and young adult mental health problems are most common in fathers?

This is an important question and one that we don’t yet have an answer to. We know that many new dads who experience mental health problems have had some anxiety or depression before, but we need more research on how other common problems such as drug or alcohol issues might affect dads’ mental health.

 

Q5: Can you share any advice for fathers who are curious about this study and wish to learn more about it?

If you are planning a family or expecting a baby, and have any concerns about how you will manage to become a parent, don’t wait until things get too much – get in early and put some plans in place to support you. There are some good resources online now that is just for dads, like the beyond blue ‘Dadvice’ website, with advice on what to expect and how to manage the new challenges of becoming a father. Talk to other dads about what they are doing and how they are finding it. And chat with your GP early if you are feeling stressed or down.

 

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