New and expectant fathers are equally at risk of suffering depression as their partners, and public health services should provide these men with proper support and counselling, according to an article in the latest Medical Journal of Australia.
Mr Richard Fletcher, a lecturer in the Faculty of Health at the University of Newcastle, and colleagues say health services have only recently become aware of the importance of meeting the needs of expectant and new fathers with specific interventions.
Various strategies have been initiated across different health services, but Mr Fletcher says more attention needs to be given to determining the optimum strategies to help fathers.
He says it is not only important for a father to provide support for his partner, but also to care for his own mental health to ensure he has the emotional resources needed to form a secure relationship with his child.
There is increasing recognition that a father's depression and anxiety in the perinatal period can have a negative impact on the emotions of his partner and his child, says Mr Fletcher.
"Well fathers, on the other hand, have been shown to have a buffering effect against the detrimental consequences of a mother's depression on the infant's wellbeing," he says.
"Services in Australia are matching those in other countries with respect to assessing and providing support for psychosocial health in expectant and new mothers.
"Given the impact of both parents' emotional health on each other and their children it is timely to now consider ways that similar services can be provided for expectant and new fathers."
Mr Fletcher lists several tactics that could be used by public health services including father-specific childbirth classes run by male health workers in which men can discuss their parenting role and better understand the emotional changes facing both themselves and their partners.
Clinicians also can provide advice and assistance to new fathers, either directly or through the mother if the father cannot attend every health service appointment.
Mr Fletcher recommends the use of brochures and letters outlining the importance of a father's own wellbeing, and a self-assessment tool for postnatal depression in fathers.
"Support for fathers via the perinatal clinic could also be provided by remote services, using a dedicated telephone help line," says Mr Fletcher.