World-first SMS program combats mental health risks among new dads
Nothing compares to the joy of becoming a dad for the first time, but the transition to fatherhood is a high-risk period of mental distress for men.
For many first-time dads the sudden responsibility of caring for a new-born, expectations of providing financial support and the drastic change in lifestyle can take a toll.
Research shows one in seven new dads experiences a high level of psychological distress while adjusting to fatherhood and one in 10 first-time fathers develops postnatal depression.
In 2015, beyondblue partnered with University of Newcastle and the Movember Foundation to create SMS4dads – a world-first, free Smartphone program dedicated to improving new dads’ mental health.
Results of a national trial showed 92 per cent of participating dads found the service helpful.
beyondblue hopes to see the service become an ongoing, national program and encourages fathers to register at sms4dads.com
SMS4dads sends regular text messages to fathers offering uncomplicated information, advice and encouragement during the life-changing experience.
The service is synchronised with each baby’s development so dads receive timely and relevant advice about supporting their partner during pregnancy and caring for their newborn.
SMS4dads also provides an easy-to-use tool that tracks each father’s mood and stress levels. Dads who are consistently stressed or feeling low receive additional support and a phone call offering information about services.
SMS4dads project leader, UON's Associate Professor Richard Fletcher said the program worked because it was easy to access, private and provided practical solutions.
“Many fathers believe their main role is to provide for their family, which can place extraordinary pressure on their shoulders. Often, their own mental health is the last thing dads think about.
“It can be hard to engage men, especially when it comes to mental health but this approach, using the latest digital technology, is convenient and appeals to men.”
beyondblue Project Manager Dr Luke Martin said anxiety and depression were common in new dads and although it was treatable, men were among the most reluctant to seek help.
“We need to find better ways to support new dads before they become distressed and the results from the SMS4dads trial show that this approach works.
“Having good mental health is vital for new dads because their health impacts their partner’s wellbeing and their baby’s development. Millions have been invested into providing mental health supports for new mums – and rightly so – but it’s also time we invested in supporting new dads.”
The Movember Foundation Executive Director of Programs Paul Villanti described SMS4dads as a breakthrough program.
“We know through our work that a lot of blokes probably wouldn’t pick up the phone and ask for help. With SMS4dads we have the potential to help thousands of men who would otherwise probably try to struggle through on their own.”
SMS4dads is funded by beyondblue with donations from the Movember Foundation.