Academic journal article Advances in Mental Health

SMS4dads: Providing Information and Support to New Fathers through Mobile Phones – a Pilot Study

Academic journal article Advances in Mental Health

SMS4dads: Providing Information and Support to New Fathers through Mobile Phones – a Pilot Study

Article excerpt

Introduction

For many men, the transition to fatherhood is marked by psychological distress as they grapple with the demands of the new baby, their partner's needs, and their new identity as a father. In addition to contributing to the care of the newborn, fathers are often expected to provide financial, practical and emotional support to their partner. Unemployment, a lack of social support and financial stress can make a father vulnerable to depression (Da Costa et al., 2015; Rosenthal, Learned, Liu, & Weitzman, 2013). When complications arise in the pregnancy or during the newborn period, or if the mother is depressed, the challenges for the new father can be multiplied (Elmir & Schmied, 2016; Valizadeh, Zamanzadeh, & Rahiminia, 2013). Perinatal depression in mothers is characterised by feelings of worthlessness, decreased interest in pleasure, dysphoria, anxiety, the inability to make decisions and potentially impaired infant care (Beck, 2006). The relationship strain in cases of maternal depression can add to fathers' stress and can lead to their own mental illness. This is a 'worst-case' situation for the new infant, because paternal depression can impair infant development just as maternal depression does (Fletcher, 2011). Given that up to 19% of mothers (O'Hara & McCabe, 2013) and 10% of fathers may experience depression during the perinatal period (Paulson & Bazemore, 2010), there is a clear need to identify distress in parents of young infants and to link these parents to information and support (Bennett & Cooke, 2012).

National guidelines have been developed for screening mothers in the perinatal period to assist health services in identifying depression and making referrals (beyondblue, 2011; Gemmill, Leigh, Ericksen, & Milgrom, 2006). Although the most widely used screening instrument for women, the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, has been validated for men (Matthey, Barnett, Kavanagh, & Howie, 2001), there are no reports in the literature on services designed to assess paternal depression and provide appropriate referrals for fathers in the perinatal period.

There are multiple reasons for the lack of appropriate perinatal mental health services for fathers including fathers' occupation patterns, the design of health services, fathers' reluctance to seek help and staff and community attitudes. These factors combine to isolate fathers from information and services. Work demands, for example, prevent most fathers from participating in antenatal and postnatal clinic visits with their partner (Fletcher, Matthey, & Marley, 2006). When they do attend ultrasounds, antenatal preparation classes or the birth, in many cases fathers feel ignored by the professionals involved (Hammarlund, Andersson, Tenenbaum, & Sundler, 2015; Machin, 2015). Furthermore, many first-time fathers return to full time work soon after the birth, limiting their interaction time with their new baby (Da Costa et al., 2015; Fletcher et al., 2006). Fathers may see themselves as a 'rock' for their family and so avoid seeking help (Bennett & Cooke, 2012). Efforts over many years to engage fathers in early intervention programs have had little success. Consequently, fathers as a group are considered 'hard to reach' (Katz, La Placa, & Hunter, 2007; Panter-Brick et al., 2014) and calls for alternative approaches to face-to-face programs have been made (Fletcher, 2011).

The proliferation of mobile communication technology offers a possible option for delivering important information and support to 'hard-to-reach' groups. Mobile phone ownership among Australian adults is high (81%), smartphone usage in Australia is equally distributed between men and women, and individuals aged 18-44 years are the most active users of communications apps (Australian Communications and Media Authority, 2015; Masha, 2014; Virgin Mobile, 2013). Mobile text messaging is now a ubiquitous channel for interpersonal communication. …

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