During the three years I worked as the service manager of a perinatal counselling agency, less than two percent of our clients were fathers. The few fathers who did come through our doors were all the partners of mothers accessing our services. Every one of them said to me during their initial assessment: “I didn't know if I could get support through you.”
In the past few years, there's been a growing awareness that perinatal mental health does not only impact mothers. During the period from conception to a year following birth, between 5-15% of fathers will experience anxiety1 and around 10% will experience depression2 with this percentage jumping as high as 26% in the period three to six months following birth.
Of course, these figures are from before we experienced a global pandemic that put strain on many of the risk factors for paternal perinatal mental health difficulties: financial difficulties, relationship difficulties, and poor maternal mental health. This risk is even higher for young fathers under 25, an age group that has been hit particularly hard by lockdown.
The good news is that research shows that talking therapies are effective3 for treating postpartum depression and anxiety in fathers. The question that then remains is how can we support more fathers post COVID-19 to reach out for help? My two cents? We need to make it explicitly clear fathers are welcome in our counselling services and private practices.
Although the service I worked for said on our website we were open to people of all genders, we were not an inviting place for fathers. The feedback from fathers about why they had been unsure if they could access us for support was that our website and advertising depicted photos of only mothers, our office was decorated in pastel pinks and florals, and the language used across our website wasn’t consistent and often referenced only women.
We were making it particularly hard for fathers to cross the hurdle they already face when accessing any kind of mental health support and making it difficult for them to know if they'd be welcome at our service, especially without a female partner.
So let’s get better at communicating that we are father friendly. I would invite you to reflect on some simple questions if you work in perinatal mental health to do a bit of a self-assessment about how accessible your service is to fathers:
- do you explicitly state in your advertising and on your website that you work with fathers?
- do you use images on your website and in your marketing that depict fathers?
- how else do you communicate you are a father friendly practitioner or service?
- have you asked the fathers who are accessing your service how you could make them feel more welcome?
Men seeking therapy
Andy Garland talks about the importance of conversations about men's health. Men's Health Week 2021
Behind closed doors
Gavin Conn focuses on support for men who've been victims of domestic abuse. Mental Health Week 2021
Blogs and vlogs 2021
News, views and updates from our staff, members and counselling clients
Views expressed in this article are the views of the writer and not necessarily the views of BACP. Publication does not imply endorsement of the writer’s views. Reasonable care has been taken to avoid errors but no liability will be accepted for any errors that may occur.