Research projects

Healthy Dads? The challenge of being a new father

Principal researchers

Gary Colquhoun
Natalie Elkins

Institution

Hall and Partners I Open Mind

Funding

The Movember Foundation

Award type

Request for proposal

Project completion year

2015

Project brief

A heightened vulnerability to psychological distress during the perinatal period is well recognised for expectant and new mothers. Increasingly, however, this period is also understood as a time of significant risk for mental health problems for fathers.

As such, beyondblue commissioned this research to:

  • understand experiences of psychological distress in new fathers
  • understand the information and support needs of new fathers
  • identify the barriers and facilitators of help seeking
  • identify strategies for building the resilience of new fathers 
  • identify appropriate communication concepts for engaging new fathers.

The research project adopted a multi-stage, multi-method approach, comprising a knowledge audit of existing literature and interviews with leading experts, 16 qualitative discussion groups, five in-depth interviews, an online survey of over 1,531 new fathers, and an online forum conducted with 23 first time fathers with children under 12 months of age.

Key findings

Seven key insights emerged from the research:

  1. Men experience significant internalised pressure in their role as fathers 

    While fatherhood is a time of great joy and happiness, men can feel overwhelmed by the need to be the financial and emotional support of their family and the sacrifices they have to make in their new role. New fathers perceive they need to be ‘the rock’, and bear the weight of their responsibilities without the support of others.

  2. First time fathers whose child is under 12 months of age are at the greatest risk of psychological distress

    Thirty-nine percent of fathers in this segment reported high levels of psychological distress. They are also likely to see their own feelings and experiences as less important than their partners.

  3. New fathers have a superficial and incomplete understanding of perinatal depression (PND) and who it can affect

    While fathers are exposed to a high risk of psychological distress they exhibit a limited understanding of perinatal mental health conditions, and there is a broad lack of awareness that they can affect men as well as women.

  4. Men do not want to identify ‘dad stress’ with depression and anxiety

    The negative attitudes towards depression and anxiety generally, and specifically towards postnatal depression among fathers, present a significant barrier to men seeking help and support in their role as fathers. As men are more open to acknowledging the challenges of fatherhood, engaging through notions such as ‘dad stress’ are likely to work more effectively.

  5. The partner relationship is of critical importance and facilitates access to support and information

    Having a child deepens the relationship between parents, but is also changes it fundamentally. Couples that are aware of the challenges that lie ahead, and who have planned and negotiated their roles and responsibilities prior to the birth, fare better than those who are less prepared.

  6. Fathers tend to seek information reactively and rely on their partner to be a conduit for advice and direction

    New fathers are open to seeking help and information, but tend to ‘learn as they go’ and seek information specific to the challenge they are currently facing.

  7. Fathers show a general lack of satisfaction with their engagement with professionals and the availability of father-specific support and advice

    There is a sense that men feel somewhat remote from the pregnancy and restricted in their new role as a father as the majority of information and support is directed towards the mother.

Future directions

With funding from The Movember Foundation, the outcomes of this research will inform the development and design of projects led by beyondblue to promote mental health and wellbeing for new fathers.

A strategic framework is also presented in the research for policy makers and program designers in which specific actions and activities for promoting fathers mental health are outlined.

Final report

Download the final report

Download the plain language summary

Download the infographic

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