For health professionals working to improve the perinatal mental health of women in rural communities, supporting dads is not the first thing that comes to mind.
However, recent research into the antenatal psychosocial risk status of Australian women found that over 95 per cent of respondents in the study said they would seek emotional support from their intimate partner. Reported rates for seeking support from health professionals, including GPs, did not exceed 55 per cent.
Clearly, it would be a lost opportunity not to include fathers in efforts to help women who may experience mental health distress in the perinatal period.
SMS4dads is a free service that all health professionals supporting women in the perinatal period should be aware of.
SMS4dads helps fathers understand and connect with their baby and partner through free text messages that provide information, tips and encouragement. Dads can join from 12 weeks into a pregnancy and throughout the first year of parenthood.
Once enrolled, dads receive three messages a week to help them understand and connect with their baby and support their partner. The messages are brief and some have links to more information or other services.
When enrolling, dads enter the expected date of delivery or bub’s birth date, so the texts are linked to the developmental stage of the baby. Some messages provide tips and encouragement. Others are health-related with information on looking after their baby or being mindful of their own health and ways to support their partner.
Checking in with dads is also an important part of the program. A set of MoodTracker interactive texts are interwoven within the messages to find out how dads are coping. If a dad says he’s not doing so well and doesn’t have anyone to talk to, a health professional from a relevant service makes contact to check in and see if he would like some support.
All the messages sent to fathers have been developed by health professionals and researchers.
SMS4dads was first developed as a research project at the University of Newcastle but now includes partnerships with Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA), Red Nose Australia, the National Rural Health Alliance, Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet and Telethon Kids Institute.
Earlier this year, SMS4dads and PANDA surveyed mums and dads with lived experience of mental health distress in the transition to parenthood. Currently, that feedback is being analysed to draft text messages that could be sent to support fathers whose partners may experience mental health distress in the perinatal period.
We are now seeking feedback on the draft messages. If you work in the area of perinatal mental health and would like to help with this project, please click on the following link to register your interest: www.sms4dads.com.au/sms4dads-clinicians-message-feedback-panda
For more details on the SMS4dads service and information on how to sign up, visit www.SMS4dads.com.au