One in three new fathers worry about their mental health. Many struggle to bond with their babies, or wrestle with despair and aggression. Why isn’t this more widely acknowledged – and why won’t the medical establishment support them?
Postnatal depression goes undiagnosed in men – aided, no doubt, by the popular misconception that it is caused by the hormone changes a mother experiences after giving birth. “That’s wrong,” says Andrew Mayers, a psychologist specialising in perinatal mental health at Bournemouth University. First, there is some evidence that men’s testosterone levels drop when they become fathers. Second, he says, “postnatal depression isn’t just hormonal. It’s about a whole series of factors in each individual’s psychology or history that kick in on top of everything else.”
In 2016, a meta-analysis of research found that 8% of men experience postnatal depression. But academics last year found that the screening tools for detecting it in women (the Edinburgh scale) are less reliable when applied to men, suggesting that the real figure is much higher. Elia Psouni of Lund University in Sweden, who led that research, says that 22% of male respondents in the study had experienced postnatal depression. With health services reaching so few fathers with depression, her research team went to “sports centres and car and motorbike forums” to recruit participants. In the UK, a National Childbirth Trust (NCT) survey of new parents in 2015 found that about one in three fathers said they were concerned about their mental health.