Opinion

Helping new parents: 'I think my husband has postantal depression'

22 July 2020

Alison Lewis on how the PANDAS Foundation can help start a conversation with those parents deeply affected by childbirth. 

Can I talk to you about my husband – I think he has postnatal depression.’ This was how one call started recently to the helpline at the PANDAS (Pre- and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support) Foundation. The UK-wide charity aims to support its NHS colleagues working on the frontline by offering a listening telephone service, social media presence and support groups (before Covid-19) for those new parents who are finding the challenges of parenthood more difficult due to perinatal depression.

One in 10 women in high-income countries are affected by perinatal depression, and up to one in five in low- and middle-income countries (WHO, 2015). Public Health England (2019) suggests the UK rate is closer to one in five. NHS England (2018) reported that one in 10 men experience perinatal mental health issues, a situation that was recognised in the NHS Long-term plan (2019), which sets out the need to offer mental health checks and support for all new fathers experiencing symptoms of mental illness.

Attempts to discuss how he was feeling made him withdraw from her and the baby further

During Mental Health Awareness Week earlier this year, when the key message was about ‘kindness’ to yourself and others, it was clear there has been more of a focus around men’s mental health than in other years. Members of the royal family and footballers have opened up about the difficulties of living with a mental health condition, highlighting that it is good to talk. Some of this conversation centred on being a new dad and how life-changing it was for everyone, with many dads acknowledging that they were not prepared for quite how much.

This caller to the helpline wanted to talk about how she was living with someone who was the ‘not the same man as before’, but one who reacted with frustration and avoidance when their baby cried, who no longer wanted to leave the house to walk the dog, and who was not sleeping well – all common symptoms of perinatal depression. The caller felt that lockdown had exacerbated these symptoms because he was no longer going to work, where he might have that casual chat with another dad, and was unable to meet up with friends made during antenatal support sessions.

As the call progressed, it became clear that attempts to discuss how he was feeling made him withdraw from his wife and the baby further. The caller also felt unable to turn to her family and friends for fear of him feeling she had ‘let him down’. So she was calling the helpline while out in a field with her dog and baby.

Stress position

How many new mums and dads are going through this stressful time of lockdown and finding that the realities of new parenthood are not those imagined and planned for during pregnancy? Certainly, the calls to the PANDAS helpline emphasise the need to talk to someone outside of the home as this has become increasingly difficult. This, coupled with a reduction of face-to-face statutory services support, often due to staff redeployment, has meant a more limited time for midwives and health visitors to build therapeutic relationships with new parents.  

A PANDAS volunteer is trained to listen and signpost to services. Private Facebook pages offer parents a safe place where they can describe the lived experience of perinatal depression. During antenatal or post-birth contacts, new parents may need to know where they can turn to for a listening and support service seven days a week. Community practitioners who offer the following information may help open up a conversation about perinatal mental health – the beginning of recovery.  

Alison Lewis is senior lecturer at the Three Counties School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Worcester. 


Resources

  • For further information, contact the PANDAS free helpline on 0808 1961 776, Monday to Sunday, 11am to 10pm
  • Email support at [email protected] (72-hour response time).

References:

NHS. (2019) NHS Long Term Plan. See: longtermplan.nhs.uk (accessed 29 June 2020).

Public Health England. (2019) Perinatal mental health. See: gov.uk/government/publications/better-mental-health-jsna-toolkit/4-perinatal-mental-health (accessed 29 June 2020).

World Health Organisation (2015) Thinking healthy: a manual for psychological management of perinatal depression. See: who.int/mental_health/maternal-child/thinking_healthy/en/  (accessed 29 June 2020).

Picture Credit | IKON

 

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