Dads care too – recognising the rights and needs of fathers as carers

Supporting dads in their role as carer has massive benefits on the individual and family.

It’s 70 years today since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – it’s a day to reflect, as a global community, that we must continue to strive for the advancement of human rights for all.

This year, Parents At Work has been advocating for #ParentalLeaveEquality. It’s about equally supporting both mothers and fathers to enable them to better share parental leave and work flexibly. This in turn gives both mothers and fathers the opportunity to thrive at work and at home.

We need to support, care and recognise the needs of working families in our workplaces and wider communities – as when we don’t, there can be devastating effects on an individual, family and society.

Support for dads to care is a health imperative

The issue of men’s perinatal and postnatal health is an example of this – it is estimated that around 10% of new fathers experience depression. When you equate this to 30,000 babies that begin life with a father who is suffering, we see the huge problem that this is.

That’s why we are world-wide advocates for better parental leave for dads. If men get in on the caring action more – and are supported for doing so – research has proven it would lead to a far more gender equal work environment and home life.

In an article on The Conversation last week, our dear friend Professor Richard Fletcher wrote:

‘England’s National Health Service (NHS) this week announced it will offer mental health screening and treatment for new and expectant fathers whose partners are suffering from mental illness. The NHS described this as a “radical action to support families”, and it certainly is an unusual step.

In Australia, screening mothers for mental illness before and after birth is standard, but fathers are not routinely assessed at any point. The idea new fathers could also have mental health issues related to the birth may seem odd. But there is increasing evidence men experience postnatal mental health and adjustment issues that deserve attention.

It is true that the rate of depression for new fathers, estimated at 10%, is around half that of mothers. But that still amounts to more than 30,000 babies who start life each year with a father who is miserable and irritable on top of the normal fatigue and stress that come with a newborn. This has negative short- and long-term effects on the mother and child.

Of 1,500 men surveyed by mental health organisation beyondblue in 2015, one in four said only mothers could get postnatal depression. Health professionals too can be so focused on the risk to mothers that they overlook fathers’ mental health.

But having a stressed and depressed father can have serious implications for infants and relationships. These dads are more likely to be withdrawn and speak with less warmth to their infant. Compared to those who are well, fathers who are depressed are also more likely to use physical discipline on even one-year-old babies and participate less in tasks such as reading storybooks.

Treating these dads has multiple benefits. The emotional and practical support a father can offer to his mentally ill partner can contribute to her healing. Mothers with mental illness identify their partner as their main support.

And his involvement in caring for their infant can have dual benefits. The mother is relieved of some responsibility for the care and the impact of the impaired care by the mother can be lessened. Supporting fathers in this role and improving their confidence in parenting has major benefits.’

As Richard states, we have our support for mothers fairly well-established, however as a society and within the cultural and policy structure of the workplace, we have far to go when it comes to supporting our fathers’ rights as carers. The right to care at home, in a way that still allows for progression and enjoyment in the workplace, should be given to every parent. Fathers and mothers should both have the right to be a part of their child’s upbringing, and feel present for all the joys and challenges that come with raising children.

 

Read the full article by Richard Fletcher here – https://theconversation.com/men-get-postnatal-depression-too-and-as-the-mothers-main-support-they-need-help-108256