How social media could help identify fathers at risk of PND

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Identifying which fathers may be at risk of experiencing postnatal depression following the birth of their baby isn't always an easy task. According to a new study, however, clues might be in their pre-baby social media posts.

As part of the research, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, researchers collected almost 70,000 Reddit posts from 365 fathers spanning a six-month period around the birth of their baby. A list of "at risk" words were collated in consultation with an expert in perinatal mental health.

"While traditional health services may not be effective at engaging fathers, emerging evidence suggests that fathers may be seeking health information digitally through social media platforms," the authors explain of the decision to explore the platform.

 Currently the subreddit Daddit has 167,000 members, while predaddit, for dads-to-be has 38,000.   

Posts were evaluated for changes in how dads engaged with Reddit, their emotion, language and the topics they discussed following the birth of their child

The team found that fathers who were rated as being "high risk" for depression used Reddit less than their low-risk counterparts, made comments and submitted content rated as "lower quality' by their peers, and engaged in fewer discussions around Humour, Lifestyle, or Image. "These observations are consistent with previous research on mothers, and could be explained by symptoms of depression that may discourage social engagement, such as exhaustion and anhedonia," the authors write. 

"To date, most parenting interventions have been mother-focused," adds Dr Brenda Wiederhold, the journal's Editor-in-Chief, who was not involved in the study.

Dr Nicole Highet, Founder and Executive Director of the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE) agrees that the majority of information and interventions for expectant and new parents are targeted at mothers. "It is critical that fathers are also provided with timely, relevant information in a way they can access and absorb it," she tells Essential Baby. 

According to Dr Highet, depression in fathers is common, affecting, up to ten percent of dads during the perinatal period (pregnancy and the first year of the baby's life). And while the likelihood of men developing depression at this time significantly increases if their partner is also depressed, men may also experience depression on their own.

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Some of the symptoms of postnatal depression include:

  • Feeling sad or down, or sometimes feeling numb and nothing at all
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in life, your baby, or activities that you used to enjoy
  • Feeling angry, frustrated and/or irritable
  • Lacking energy and motivation, feeling tired all the time
  • Feeling disconnected from others
  • Loss of libido
  • Difficulties thinking clearly or concentrating which may be also affected by lack of sleep
  • Increased use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Changes in appetite and weight (may increase or decrease).

In response to the needs of fathers, the organisation has adapted their Ready to COPE Guide for expectant and new dads, which is funded by Worksafe Victoria under the WorkWell Program.

"Our Ready to COPE guide for mothers has successfully resulted in mums feeling more prepared for the emotional and/or mental health challenges that they faced on the journey through pregnancy and early parenthood. Over 90 per cent stated that the Ready to COPE Guide helped comfort them and/or made them feel less alone with the more difficult emotional and/or mental health challenges they felt."

According to Dr Highet, it's vital men seek help early if they're struggling after welcoming a new baby.

"Our research, and that of others in Australia, has consistently shown that men often put the emotional needs of the mother and infant first, and maintain that they have to be the strong one and 'hold it all together' for their family. However, this has the potential to mean symptoms are not identified, and men reach crisis point before seeking help."

SIgn up to COPE's Ready to COPE emails here 

Contact PANDA's National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline on 1300 726 306 9am – 7.30pm Mon – Fri (AEST/AEDT) or visit How is Dad Going?

Lifeline 13 11 14