Health: It's all too much. I'm off to the pub

Postnatal depression is a woman's problem, isn't it? Wrong. It also hits new fathers. By Heather Welford

Postnatal depression (PND) affects between 10 and 20 per cent of new mothers - and is taken seriously. Books for medics, and mothers, fill the shelves; it's a bread- and-butter topic in women's magazines; there's a mass of ongoing research into causes and treatments.

What's less obvious, though, is that it also affects new fathers. The research is new, and since the earliest stuff in the Eighties there's been a trickle rather than a flood.

So far, statistics about incidence and timing are unreliable, with few replications of results or methods. However, the most robust UK study so far found 9 per cent of men depressed at six weeks post-partum, with 5.4 per cent depressed at six months - though one study went as high as 20 per cent at six months.

New babies bring stresses, pressures, expectations, the need for more cash, broken nights - all of them felt by men as well as women. "There are similarities in the postnatal depression suffered by men and women," says Dr Malcolm George, from the men's studies research group at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London. "Many of them arise from the changed circumstances, and the problems both partners may have finding the emotional closeness to get through the difficulties .There's still an idea that good personal relationships are important only to women, and that's just rubbish. Postnatal depression is an exchange phenomenon. Each partner can make the other feel worse."

Classically, when men feel depressed, their strategy is to look for distraction - "I've had enough of this. I'm off to the pub" - leaving the mother feeling even more isolated. "Once you're depressed, your ability to solve problems is reduced, and things get worse," says Dr George.

Psychiatrist Clive Ballard said there's been little progress in research since his team published their study of incidence in the mid Nineties. "It's partly practicalities. If a a group of subjects is difficult to get hold of - such as fathers who don't know, or who don't admit, they're depressed - you tend to choose something easier to study."

Dr Ballard would like to see more active "seeking out" of fathers with depression. "In one or two areas now they routinely screen the partners of women with PND, but that reaches only some of the affected men. Why can't health visitors at least ask the mothers they're seeing, about their men?"

There exists, say some, what one psychotherapist calls a "benign conspiracy" to exclude fathers from active parenting. New parenthood produces female- only dialogues between grandmothers, sisters, midwives, health visitors and new mothers themselves. Adrienne Burgess, in Fatherhood Reclaimed (Vermilion, 1998), says the most usual interpretation of paternal depression is that the father is feeling displaced - sulking, in other words, like a "greedy child". She thinks it more likely that it springs from the fact that he is a "potentially active parent who has been disabled".

For all the talk about New Man, and the way even car ads are designed to appeal to men by showing their products as kid-carriers instead of babe-magnets, it seems we've a long way to go before fathers stop feeling marginalised.

Duncan Fisher, dad to Miriam, 21 months, aims to convince the UK's major parents' organisation, the National Childbirth Trust, of exactly this. Speaking at NCT's national conference recently, he challenged the overwhelmingly female Trust to let go, and to examine ways in which men are excluded from NCT and, more generally, from being active fathers.

"Everything to do with family life focuses on the mother. I remember, when Miriam was small, I felt miserable at the way the pressure was working against the egalitarian parenting my partner Clare and I'd both wanted. I felt a failure. None of the health professionals involved me; in the hospital, the teaching session demonstrating how to bath the baby was in the morning when most dads would've found it hard to be around, even if they'd known it was on. It's not that we want to be whinging victims - we want to play a real part in the lives of our children."

Duncan Fisher admits to intense irritation at cartoons about silly old Daddy keeling over at the idea of changing a nappy, and "jokey" pieces about disastrous afternoons looking after baby. "Who are these fathers? All the ones I know change nappies without fainting, and manage childcare perfectly well."

They don't feel resentful of their children "stealing" their partners, either - he rails at the idea that there are hordes of men who can't cope with their partner breast-feeding, for example, and feel jealous at the baby's use of the breasts.

"Is this really true? How many men feel like that? I thought it was a lovely sight."

However, Fisher, 36, who is from Crickhowell, says that professionally run groups are unlikely to work as well for men as for women. He points out that men who are depressed or miserable, or who seek reassurance in their new role, are probably unwilling to join groups. "Privacy's critically important. Maybe they'd join a fathers' group later, but not at first. But I'd like to see couples' antenatal classes extended, to six months after the birth."

He proposes imaginative use of the Internet, where men could seek mutual support or even professional advice, at any time of day or night. "There could be leaflets given to all new fathers, including information on depression, and an acknowledgment of the pressures they might be under." He would like to see more men brave enough to visit toddler groups: "I go along to a local one, mainly because Miriam adores it, but I feel uncomfortable - about as comfortable as a woman in a rugby club bar."

Ongoing studies show that the children of postnatally depressed mothers are affected behaviourally and developmentally; Malcolm George is certain that research would show similar effects on children of a father's depression. "We already know depression of any kind increases marital breakdown; it's important to get the message across it's not just mothers who get PND."

Duncan Fisher wants parents, and professionals, to accept that mothers and fathers are in it together, and that mothers and their babies, can only benefit from fathers' active involvement and support. "When you really meet the needs of mothers, hey presto, you've met the needs of fathers as well."

Heather Welford is the author of `Postnatal Depression' (Thorsons, pounds 5.99).

Case Study

Paul Chapman, 31, pictured above with son Jacob, 4, and daugher Daisy, 6, didn't want help for his depression after Daisy was born

I didn't want people to think, `oh, poor sod, he can't cope with it all."

Paul, a civil servant in Birmingham, is father to Daisy, and Jacob. After Daisy's birth, Paul's partner Jane suffered severe postnatal depression, which took some two and half years to resolve with professional help. But Paul was suffering, too, from feelings of inadequacy.

Working long hours, and also following a part-time degree course, he got into the habit of drinking after work rather than coming straight home, sinking 10 bottles of strong lager two or three times a week. "I dreaded going home. The drink was a way of getting Dutch courage, stifling the worst of what I felt."

Even when he realised he'd have to seek some sort of support, he couldn't see a way of getting it. "Despite all the professional help Jane was getting, I felt I was expected to stay in the background. I was also getting the odd snide comment along the lines of `get your act together'. The only thing that kept me from walking out was the kids - I just couldn't leave them."

In time, Paul saw a stress counsellor at work about his alcohol problem, and as the pressure eased, he shared confidences with a (male) friend.

Looking back, Paul feels fathers are "pushed out of parenting. When problems arise, we're just expected to get on with it - but the truth is, we don't always manage to.

Paul Chapman is willing to offer support for new fathers. Write to him c/o NCT, Alexandra House, Oldham Terrace, London W3 6NH

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project