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13 Jan 2023

Dads share their mental health concerns about the transition into fatherhood

‘Dads want to be referred to as participants not passengers within the fatherhood journey’

Ashleigh Watkins is an ARC NENC-funded PhD student working with our Supporting Children and Families theme.

Her PhD research project explores fathers’ mental health and wellbeing experiences within the perinatal period. In this blog, she shares her reflections on working with local dads with lived experience and explains the many invaluable ways they’ve contributed to her research work so far.

The transition to fatherhood is a challenging and stressful period. Significant lifestyle changes occur alongside this transition which have been shown to have huge impacts on dads’ overall wellbeing and mental health. There is currently an overwhelming lack of support for dads within this period, as well as sparse understanding of what dads’ concerns really are and how we can better support dads.

As part of my PhD project funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North East and North Cumbria (NENC), I undertook a systematic review exploring fathers’ mental health and wellbeing concerns within the transition to fatherhood and preventative approaches and sources of support in addressing these concerns was conducted. I was particularly keen to include dads with lived experience as part of the review.

During the systematic review, I held three online workshops involving four dads as part of a Public Involvement group who had experienced challenges and stresses when they became dads. These dads were recruited through advertisement on the NIHR ARC North East and North Cumbria website, newsletter and social media, and the advertisement was also shared amongst individuals within the NHS and Newcastle University.

The news item calling for dads to take part in my research project was one of the top pages viewed on the site that month, and I was overwhelmed by the number of dads who reached out to myself willingly wanting to contribute to the research. This really highlighted to me the importance of this research to so many dads out there, and the potential for my work to make a difference.

Dads contributed towards the analytical stages of the systematic review adding their perspectives and insights. They enlightened the important and most concerning aspects of fatherhood through discussion of other dads’ quotes and accounts within previous studies.

They specifically found reassurance in relating to each other within the workshops and research data, adding a personal touch to the research. I found that they paid more attention to negative quotes that they may have found more relevant to their experience – highlighting phrases such as ‘isolation’, ‘spare part’ and ‘demoralising’ as meaningful to them.

All of the dads showed a lot of dedication to the research and thanked me for conducting this work around a topic which they felt was often invisible.

This was the first time I have worked with public contributors on a systematic review. At first, I was a little anxious on how the workshops may play out, if dads would engage and if they would benefit from the research skills that they would gain insight of. However, I was soon reassured by the enjoyment and desire for further workshops expressed by dads throughout.

I found their input to be invaluable.

These workshops have also not only contributed to building my skill set and confidence as a researcher, but also made me feel very fulfilled in conducting this research which will, hopefully, make a difference to future dads.

I was particularly struck by the iron determination that dads now show in wanting to make a difference through paternal perinatal mental health research. It is clear that dads want to be referred to as participants not passengers within the fatherhood journey.

By Ashleigh Watkins, PhD researcher, Supporting Children and Families theme.

View Ashleigh’s PhD profile