One in 10 new fathers suffers from postnatal depression and more research is needed to find out how many develop other mental health disorders after their children are born.
While fathers are still less likely than mothers to experience postnatal depression, there is a growing realisation that it is an important issue for men too, new research from the Australian Institute of Family Studies shows.
The transition to fatherhood and the early years of raising children are a time when men are at substantially increased risk of psychological distress, Australian Institute of Family Studies deputy director Dr Daryl Higgins said.
"It's a very positive thing that fathers are much more engaged with child-rearing, but if a father is experiencing mental health issues it is potentially a double-edged sword," Dr Higgins said.
"Some men struggle to come to terms with the reality of pregnancy and the need to support their partner through the childbirth process, leading to stress among expectant fathers."
There are parenting implications for fathers who have mental health disorders. They are more likely to show low levels of engagement and warmth towards their children, and may not monitor them appropriately.
Their children are more likely to have behavioural problems and psychiatric disorders.
Men often lack the clearly structured transition that tends to guide women's experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and early parenting, Dr Higgins said. This could include birth education, parent groups and parental leave.
Many men with mental illness saw very positive aspects to fatherhood, the research found. Their children brought a sense of meaning and purpose to their lives.
The report also found that welfare and mental health providers in Australia often fail to see men as a member of the family unit, or effectively engage fathers.
Signs of postnatal depression in dads
According to howisdadgoing.org.au, dads with postnatal depression can have the following symptoms:
• tiredness, headaches and pain
• irritability, anxiety and anger
• loss of libido
• changes in appetite
• feelings of being overwhelmed, out of control and unable to cope
• engaging in risk taking behaviour
• feelings of isolation and disconnection from partner, friends or family
• withdrawal from intimate relationships and from family, friends and community life
• increased hours of work as a part of the withdrawal from family
• increased use of drugs or alcohol instead of seeking treatment for depression.
For help and advice on PND, contact PANDA's National Perinatal Depression Helpline on 1300 726 306, or visit PANDA's brother site howisdadgoing.org.au.