NHS to introduce mental health checks for new fathers
New fathers and fathers-to-be will be offered mental health checks if their partner is suffering anxiety, psychosis or postnatal depression, NHS England has announced.
While it is well recognised that pregnant women and and new mothers can experience mental health problems, little attention has been paid to their partners.
NHS England describes this offer as a radical initiative, arguing that men should not be allowed to suffer in silence, attempting to help their partner but possibly experiencing distress of their own. The help may take the form of peer support, couples’ behavioural therapy sessions, family and parenting interventions in community perinatal mental health settings, or other talking therapies.
“At what should be one of the happiest moments of our lives, caring for a partner suffering mental ill health when a new baby arrives is a difficult and often lonely experience,” said Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England.
Parenting groups, such as the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), offer support to both parents, but Stevens said the NHS should intervene when men might need medical diagnosis and treatment.
“Alongside the backup and friendship of other new parents in NCT and other groups, the NHS has a role to play in helping support the whole family. These days dads and partners are rightly expected to be more hands-on and NHS mental health services also need to step up and support families at times of extreme stress and anxiety,” said Stevens.
Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national mental health director, said any form of mental ill health during pregnancy, labour or early parenthood was a huge concern. “It doesn’t just disrupt life for mums but also for dads, partners and the wider family. The NHS has made huge strides forward in improving mental health care for new mums, and ensuring their partners are properly supported too is the next logical step,” she said.
“We want to give every family the best possible start in life and this will help do that.”
The initiative is part of the forthcoming NHS long-term plan, which will also expand services to help pregnant women and new mothers. One in 10 men are thought to experience anxiety or depression in the first six months after the birth of their baby, while one in five women can have mental health problems in pregnancy or within the first year.
Specialist community health teams should be available across the country by next April to diagnose and treat women with moderate to severe mental health problems in the first year after birth – and counsel those wanting to get pregnant who have had problems in the past. About 9,000 women are expected to have received treatment this year. Three mother and baby units have been opened, in Kent, Lancashire and Devon, with another to launch in East Anglia next year.
Dr Giles Berrisford, associate national clinical director for perinatal mental health for NHS England, said: “Mental illnesses are cruel and they seem doubly cruel when they affect parents making that transition into family life. The expansion of perinatal mental health services with specialised community and inpatient beds helps to ensure mums with severe perinatal mental illnesses receive the help they need, when they need it.
“It is essential to support those people who care for these mums the most: their partners. This targeted support will help to achieve this.”