Post-partum depression is frequently associated with mothers, but up to 18 per cent of men also report depressive symptoms during their partner’s pregnancy or in the months after birth. A decline in mental health attributed to the transition into parenthood can be found across genders for similar reasons, according to Deborah Da Costa, a researcher in the division of Clinical Epidemiology at the Research Institute-Montreal University Health Center (RI-MUHC) and an associate professor in McGill’s Department of Medicine.
“Both men and women go through an important transition as they enter the parenting role,” Da Costa wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “There are changes to personal identity, the couple relationship, work-life roles, etc. While most people can adjust well, some have a more difficult time.”
The internet holds many resources from many sources about pregnancy and parenting. However, a new study from the RI-MUHC found that most of the information available online is tailored to mothers, leaving expectant fathers without valuable resources to combat stress and ease the emotional burdens of becoming a parent.
“There is a lack of ‘father-friendly’ information that is easily accessible to expectant and new fathers,” Da Costa wrote. “It’s important that the information be credible and match [paternal] needs. More than half the fathers in our study felt the information [online] was unhelpful and 3 in 4 told us it wasn’t tailored to fathers.”
The RI-MUHC study investigated the areas of the parental transition that are of greatest interest to expectant or new fathers, including infant and child care, maintaining a work-life balance, improving sleep, managing stress, and supporting and improving their relationship with their partner. The study gathered information used to inform HealthyDads.ca, a prototype website that promotes the mental health of fathers and provides them with targeted parenting and pregnancy-related information.
Along with the help of future studies, HealthyDads.ca also aims to incorporate specific topics that are particularly pertinent to gay men who are new or expectant fathers.
“[These topics] might include some of the challenges and benefits related to their selected pathways to parenthood (such as surrogacy, adoption, fostering) and how to cope with concerns or experiences related to discrimination and stigma,” Da Costa wrote. [These experiences] can impact them individually, as a couple, and as a family.”
Websites like HealthyDads.ca, which provide health-related information without the active participation of a health professional, are a type of care often referred to as ‘e-Health.’ This new wave of technology and internet-based activity revolutionizes the way that patients interact within the healthcare system.
“E-Health can play a very important role in removing some of the barriers to seeking and receiving help at the individual, provider and system levels,” Da Costa wrote. “E-Health is far-reaching (95% of Canadians under the age of 55 have access), easily accessible (24/7), [and] anonymous mode of delivering mental health information and evidence-based strategies to improve mental health.”
The benefits of e-Health reach far beyond the fields of mental health. E-Health can be seen in the rise of telemedicine, where patients can connect remotely with medical professionals for diagnostic purposes through the use of technology—as well as in the increased use of smartphone apps and text messaging to receive health-related information and diagnoses. Even the enormous popularity of fitness bands, particularly those that monitor steps, heart rate, and sleep patterns, are evidence of the e-Health revolution.
“[E-Health] will have an extremely important role as part of a stepped care approach,” Da Costa wrote. “[However,] I don’t think it should replace more formal methods, particularly in more severe cases of emotional/psychological problems.”