Father’s Day on Sunday is meant to be joyful but may also be an emotional time for as many as 1 in 10 new dads who experience postnatal depression. Researchers at the University of Newcastle are aiming to help with a new project exploring how new fathers think and feel.
The What About New Dads (WAND) study asks fathers of infants how they’re faring, via a 15-minute online survey on paternal wellbeing and psychological experiences.
The study was developed by PhD student Ms Jaime Wroe, along with Associate Professor Richard Fletcher, Dr Linda Campbell and Dr Jennifer StGeorge from the University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute.
“The importance of maternal mental health is well known and there’s a broad range of services to support women during the transition to motherhood,” Ms Wroe says. “But what about dads?
“New fathers may also experience distress in their adjustment to parenthood, which can then affect the cognitive, emotional, social and behavioural development trajectories in infants. In short, dads’ mental health and wellbeing definitely matter.”
WAND will investigate the thought patterns that influence men’s adjustment to fatherhood and the father-baby relationship. The research team is hoping it will also give participants a better understanding of their own mental health plus greater knowledge of service providers and programs in the community.
“One of the largest barriers in supporting new fathers is a lack of understanding of the modern fathering experience. Obviously, balancing traditional role expectations of provider while being actively involved in raising a child puts a lot of extra pressure on new fathers,” Ms Wroe said.
“We know from previous research that dads experience postnatal depression differently to mums. Dads may present with symptoms such as anger and irritability, rather than the more commonly recognised low mood. Dads may also withdraw from parenting-related tasks, becoming more invested in work or other activities.
“An understanding of the distinction between typical and less functional transitions to fatherhood will equip professionals to better identify psychological distress in fathers and to tailor support to meet their needs.”
The team is seeking fathers of infants aged from 4 weeks to 13 months to complete the survey via a smartphone, tablet or computer. Some fathers with infants younger than 6 weeks will be invited to participate in Stage 2 of the study, involving two additional surveys over the postnatal year.
* HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.