SMSs combat mental health risks for dads

Mar 29 2017

Nothing compares to the joy of becoming a dad for the first time, but the transition to fatherhood is a high-risk period of mental distress for men.

For many first-time dads the sudden responsibility of caring for a new-born, expectations of providing financial support and the drastic change in lifestyle can take a toll.

Research shows one in seven new dads experiences a high level of psychological distress while adjusting to fatherhood and one in 10 first-time fathers develops postnatal depression.

In 2015 beyondblue partnered with University of Newcastle and the Movember Foundation to create SMS4dads – a world-first, free Smartphone program dedicated to improving new dads’ mental health.

Results of a national trial showed 92 per cent of participating dads found the service helpful.

SMS4dads sends regular text messages to fathers offering uncomplicated information, advice and encouragement during the life-changing experience.

The service is synchronised with each baby’s development so dads receive timely and relevant advice about supporting their partner during pregnancy and caring for their newborn.

SMS4dads also provides an easy-to-use tool that tracks each father’s mood and stress levels. Dads who are consistently stressed or feeling low receive additional support and a phone call offering information about services.

SMS4dads project leader, University of Newcastle Associate Professor Richard Fletcher, said the program worked because it was easy to access, private and provided practical solutions: “Many fathers believe their main role is to provide for their family, which can place extraordinary pressure on their shoulders. Often, their own mental health is the last thing dads think about.

“It can be hard to engage men, especially when it comes to mental health but this approach, using the latest digital technology, is convenient and appeals to men.”

Comments from those who have already completed SMS4dads include”

- Just getting a message helped me remember this was still really early days and things were going to change as the baby grew.

- I liked the idea that my son was sending me messages about his development.

- The way the messages would pop up and sometimes the timing was just right to give you a boost or a smile amidst everything. Like a mate tapping you on the shoulder


* Associate Professor Richard Fletcher leads the Fathers and Families Research Program (FFRP) within the Family Action Centre at the University of Newcastle, researching in conjunction with HMRI’s Brain and Mental Health Program.