November 14, 2022

Fatherhood, Mental Health and Paternal PPD (yes, it's real)

Men are least likely to seek help for mental and emotional support, but employers can change that.
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You may have heard of Movember, but did you know that November is also Men’s Health Awareness Month? Men’s Health Awareness Month is dedicated to highlighting men’s physical, emotional, and mental health care and journeys. The goal is to destigmatize men seeking care, especially for mental and emotional support. 

The Stigma Surrounding Men’s Emotional and Mental Health

A study by the National Institute of Mental Health found that while men are more likely to seek help with substance abuse than women, they're also less likely to seek help for physical health issues or emotional support with only 1 in 10 men seeking professional resources.

The prevalence of traditional masculinity deters many men from seeking needed emotional and mental health, instead turning towards stoicism, invulnerability, and self-reliance. Negative feelings and experiences - being overwhelmed, angry, disassociating, feeling disengaged - have been perpetuated as signs of weakness and are reinforced in certain cultures. As a result, men, including fathers, often feel unable to seek help or talk to someone professionally about their concerns.

Fatherhood and Perinatal Health

Fatherhood is one of the biggest life events that causes long-term emotional changes for men, but it's often undiscussed and understudied. The huge transition in identity from “man” to “father” can have long-term implications for men. A 2021 study study shows that during the perinatal period - 4 months post birth - the biological father’s mind and body adapts to its new role as a parent. Fathers experience clear biological changes: a decrease in testosterone; and a change in the volume of gray brain matter associated with motivation and decision making. 

In addition, fathers often experience a wide range of emotional and mental changes. According to Cornell University’s Department of Human Development, up to 18% of new fathers experience paternal anxiety, caused by expectations and a feeling that the “weight of the world” is on their shoulders: provide financially, support their partner, be a protector, etc. And, new and first-time fathers experience anxiety because of the uncertainty and fear of fatherhood: what am I doing and am I doing it right

It is estimated that 1 in 4 men, 23.8%, will experience some degree of postpartum depression (PPD), which commonly develops more gradually than maternal PPD. And estimates show that 10% of fathers are depressed the first year of fatherhood and yet, there are little to no screening systems in place to identify paternal PPD. 

As a result, most new fathers engage in coping mechanisms including drinking, change in diet and exercise, and social isolation. 

A Look at Some Factors That Can Affect Paternal PPD

Any father has the potential to be impacted emotionally at any point before or after the birth of a child. However, there are certain factors that resurface as key contributors:  

  • A challenging of stressful pregnancy
  • A difficult birth
  • Broken sleep patterns/lack of sleep
  • A partner who is suffering from postpartum anxiety, depression, or physical challenges
  • A lack of community support
  • A lack of financial stability

Even situations where pregnancy and birth are "smooth sailing" can still stir up high amounts of stress. Adapting to fatherhood can feel like a heavy burden for fathers who are supporting their partners' physical and mental needs. Ultimately, the need to be a "rock" while struggling mentally and emotionally can be overwhelming for some new fathers.

How can employers support fathers?

Employers are starting to take notice of the importance of robust employee wellness packages and programs that go beyond medical, dental and vision.

According to BenefitsPRO, 83% of employers offered tele-behaviorial health services in 2021 and 9% are planning to offer it within the next two years.

Many employers’ insurance plans include Employee Assistance Plans (EAPs) which offer a wide range of services: everything from discounted gym memberships to complimentary legal advice. 1 in 4 employers plan to increase their EAP offerings within the next two years and should look to add wellness support, connecting employees with someone to talk to one-on-one. 

Suggested workplace tips for employers:

  • Offer employer-sponsored access to a support network for all employees - moms, dads, birthing and non-birthing parents. The support network can often be the first touch-point for fathers to identify paternal PPD early-on.
  • Institute paid paternity leave so that fathers can adjust to their new role without added financial stress
  • Establish an employee resource group (ERG) is not already established to advocate for parent’s needs 
  • Update policy language to be as inclusive as possible and remove any language that shames or deters men from seeking mental health services 

If you’re an employer interested in diversifying your current employee offerings to include emotional support for your male-identifying employees, we’d love to chat. We offer an employer-sponsored product that connects employees with 1:1 coaches to chat through all of life’s curve balls. 

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