Compared to new mothers, the mental health of new fathers has been overlooked. Yet one in ten men experience mental health problems during their partner’s pregnancy. New research published in BJPsych Open by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) sheds light on these neglected problems.

For a majority of new fathers, mental health problems during a partner’s pregnancy were a continuation of similar problems often dating back to adolescence.

Emotional problems during a partner’s pregnancy have a tendency to continue after 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 behavior problems.

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

The team 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, used data from a 20-year, two-generation study which assessed common mental disorder nine times from age 14-29 years, and then in the third trimester of subsequent pregnancies to age 35 years.

Men with a history of adolescent and young adult common mental disorder were more than four times more likely to experience mental health problems during their partner’s pregnancy.

Lead author, MCRI researcher Elizabeth Spry said this study shows that an opportunity exists to identify and support fathers with pre-existing mental health issues.

“Dads’ mental health problems are common and distressing for both men and their families. Knowing who is most likely to experience mental health problems in the transition to parenthood will help us to provide support and treatment for those who need it the most.”

Senior author, MCRI Population Health Group Leader Professor George Patton said this study offers the opportunity to achieve a ‘triple dividend’.

“Health services are doing much more for women before and during pregnancy; we should be also considering the mental health of men before and during a partner’s pregnancy.”

The team are continuing research on how parents’ health and emotional adjustment before, during and after pregnancy might affect their children’s development.

The full article ‘Preconception prediction of expectant fathers’ mental health: 20-year cohort study from adolescence’ Elizabeth Spry, Rebecca Giallo, Margarita Moreno-Betancur, Jacqui Macdonald, Denise Becker, Rohan Borschmann, Stephanie Brown, George C. Patton and Craig A. Olsson is available to download in full here.

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