June 27th, 2019
Becoming a new parent
- Life Changes
- Perinatal mental health
Struggling with your mental health during the first few weeks or months of parenthood can be fairly common and distressing. For this reason, healthcare providers in the UK have aimed to prioritise improving both the ease of access and quality of the services available to women who have recently had a baby (Implementing the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, NHS 2016). However, when welcoming your new arrival, the mental health and well-being as a father, partner, or adoptive parent, can be overlooked, and many people may still feel stigmatised when opening up about how this change has affected how they are feeling.
Whilst many may believe that perinatal depression or anxiety can only be experienced by new mothers, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this is not the case. Studies report prevalence of such difficulties to be present in between 3.4% to 10% of men and in 4.4% to 14% of women within the first year of birth (Paulson, Dauber, & Leiferman, 2006; Escribà-Agüir & Artazcoz, 2011.) For adoptive mothers, prevalence of depressive symptoms were seen in 12.8% of mothers at a one year follow up and were most strongly associated with stress and adjustment difficulties (Payne, Fields, Meuchel, Jaffe & Jha, 2010). A similar prevalence of 11% and similar predictive factors were also found for adoptive fathers (Foli, South, Lim, & Hebdon, 2013.) Other risk factors which may increase the likelihood of experiencing mental health difficulties following the birth or adoption of a child include: financial or life stress; incongruence between the expectations and reality of having a baby; previous experiences of anxiety or depression; or the presence of anxiety or depression in a partner (Edward, Castle, Mills, Davis, & Casey, 2015). Indeed, the most predominant risk factor for paternal depression and/or anxiety is the experience of mental health difficulties in their partner, with studies reporting the onset of paternal depression or anxiety to follow that of the onset of maternal mental health problems (Edward et al., 2015). The main difficulty experienced by those in this position is the lack of awareness of the condition, not only from themselves but also from healthcare professionals. This is sometimes caused by the belief that postnatal depression or anxiety stems from a purely biological basis. Whilst there is evidence to support a biological element for mothers, there is also evidence for psychosocial and environmental causes.
During this period of drastic change and acclimation, it may be easy to deprioritize how you are feeling in order to provide support to your partner and baby. However, it is important to remember that in order to provide optimum assistance to your family during this time, you need to ensure that your needs are equally looked after. If you find yourself struggling to cope with this important life change, try and talk to someone you trust. By opening up about how you are feeling you may find this helps to lighten the burden. Additionally, by sharing this with those around you, you may find that your friends and family are willing to provide you with more support and help in order to allow you and your partner to rest and recuperate. Alternatively, you can always discuss any difficulties with your GP who will be able to help you access further support where needed.
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