While I have previously written about postpartum depression in new dads, I think mental health is ALWAYS an important topic, so when something comes across the wire covering this, I love highlighting it. Now out of Australia comes a world-first specialized web-based treatment program, Dadbooster, for depressed or anxious fathers. It hopes to ensure new dads meet their mental health needs by reducing moderate to severe symptoms of postnatal depression.
Introducing a new life into the world is a life-changing event. Understandably, many mothers, in turn, can struggle with both depression and anxiety. However, so can fathers.
According to Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA), perinatal anxiety and depression from pregnancy through to a child turning one, up to one in five new moms and one in ten new dads can be affected.
The Silent Struggle
When his daughter, Olive, was born in 2018, Luke Rigby began the start of a mental health battle that had left him struggling for almost a year until he was diagnosed.
Jumping back into the working world three weeks later, Rigby said he had ignored early warning signs that something wasn’t quite right.
“I think I averaged a day off a week…I’d give myself a kick up the butt, but it would only last for probably a week or two, and then it becomes a self-replicating cycle,” he said.
He would finally decide to visit his GP.
“I booked him for a 15-minute appointment, but I reckon that lasted about 45 minutes,” said Rigby.
It was just me in his room sobbing and just the things that I was holding inside of me that I’ve never really said, even to myself, before they just came out…like a word vomit.
An increasing number of fathers are reporting similar experiences.
Jeanette Milgrom, executive director of Melbourne’s Parent-Infant Research Institute, or PIRI, said through her research and development of treatment programs for women, it became even more apparent there was a massive gap in treatment options for men.
“What we found is that this had not been addressed in the literature,” said Professor Milgrom.
Professor Milgrom and her team are working on building out the world’s first specialized web-based treatment program for depressed or anxious fathers, titled Dadbooster.
Dadbooster involves six sessions with SMS messages, regular contact, advice, and encouragement to keep participants motivated. Changes in symptoms also get closely monitored.
Professor Milgrom said that the treatment was comparable to in-person therapy and modified to appeal to men better.
“There are similarities in the sense that the core treatment for depression is cognitive behavioral therapy…we’ve made it very easily accessible for me…it’s a very mobile, responsive program, and it’s shorter and sharper,” she said.
Even Rocks Crumble
Unfortunately, Australia’s mental health system hasn’t been all that great at picking up a vulnerability in men, per PANDA CEO Julie Borninkhof.
“Organizations like ours are trying to break down the barriers and remind people that even rocks crumble,” said Dr. Borninkhof.
“We don’t screen as readily and ask as many questions as we do of women…so the one in 10 is probably under-reported because we also know that screening dads in the perinatal period are not as great as it is when we screen our moms.”
Alarmingly, Dr. Borninkhof said that data showed about 60 percent of new dads don’t think they’ll be great dads.
“Once men start hearing other men talking about it, it becomes very enabling to share the experience and feel that it’s so common,” said Professor Milgrom.
Addressing The Needs of The Community
According to Tom Docking, founder of Dads Group, an organization promoting positive parenting for men by combining dads, their kids, a cup of coffee, and a playground, it’s about hanging out together.
“From our research, it’s the presence of the child which helps to keep the focus on being better as a father, a partner, a community leader, and a benefit to himself and his own identity,” said Docking.
It’s important to realize that we can only do this together collaboratively to really address the needs of our community.
For Mr. Rigby from earlier, getting help from his GP and connecting with a local dads group helped give him the support he needed. Now he’s sharing his experiences with others to help raise awareness of perinatal and postnatal depression.
“My biggest bit of advice is to be radically honest with yourself…and ask the question about why you don’t feel 100 percent and then go from there,” said Rigby.
That’s part of my goal with MittenDad as a father myself. Yes, I like to write about topics I enjoy, like personal finance, technology, current events, and curating information that would benefit readers. But I also want fellow dads and fathers to feel like they’re not alone in this journey by highlighting stories like this. We all have something to offer this world on this journey of fatherhood. You’ve got this, dads.