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Sick, selfish or silenced? A qualitative exploration of paternal postnatal depression from the perspectives of fathers, mothers and health visitors

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posted on 2023-09-04, 14:58 authored by Caroline Davenport

Paternal Postnatal Depression (PND) is now considered to affect fathers. However, despite a growing body of research, the lived experience of fathers in the United Kingdom (UK) was little understood. Paternal PND has been noted to negatively impact fathers’ wellbeing, their partner relationships, and the development of their infant. Currently, there are no universal services which support UK fathers’ mental health, meaning the needs of fathers are not yet known.

This thesis has used a range of methods, including interpretative phenomenological analysis, content analysis, and thematic analysis, to explore the lived experience of paternal PND from the perspectives of UK fathers, mothers, and health visitors.

The findings demonstrate that paternal PND was experienced by fathers as highly distressing, negatively impacting on their relationships, working, and limiting their bond with their babies. They experienced intense negative emotions including anger, which was underpinned by a deep sense of shame. Despite trying to hide their PND, their partners were able to detect it, and were significant in their help-seeking. Fathers were reluctant to seek help, believing they were being strong and protecting their family, whilst mothers perceived this reluctance as a selfish refusal to prioritise the family. Despite both partners believing fathers needed support, a study of health visitors highlighted a limited system where staff did not have the skills or resources to support fathers.

These different perspectives illustrate paternal PND as causing relationship conflict and resentment, as well as a delayed bond between fathers and children. Yet, there are no current support structures for depressed UK fathers.

The originality of this work largely highlights the opposing parental perspectives towards fathers’ help-seeking for PND, and demonstrates that fathers’ depression remains hidden and unsupported, despite an ongoing level of distress affecting the father and his family.



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Faculty of Science and Engineering


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