Text-based program addressing the mental health of soon-to-be and new fathers (SMS4dads): Protocol for a randomized controlled trial

Richard Fletcher*, Chris May, John Attia, Craig Franklin Garfield, Geoff Skinner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background: Recent estimates indicating that approximately 10% of fathers experience Paternal Perinatal Depression (PPND) and the increasing evidence of the impact of PPND on child development suggest that identifying and assisting distressed fathers is justified on public health grounds. However, addressing new fathers’ mental health needs requires overcoming men’s infrequent contact with perinatal health services and their reluctance to seek help. Text-based interventions delivering information and support have the potential to reach such groups in order to reduce the impact of paternal perinatal distress and to improve the wellbeing of their children. While programs utilising mobile phone technology have been developed for mothers, fathers have not been targeted. Since text messages can be delivered to individual mobile phones to be accessed at a time that is convenient, it may provide a novel channel for engaging with “hard-to-reach” fathers in a critical period of their parenting. Objective: The study will test the efficacy of SMS4dads, a text messaging program designed specifically for fathers including embedded links to online information and regular invitations (Mood Tracker) to monitor their mood, in order to reduce self-reported depression, anxiety and stress over the perinatal period. Methods: A total of 800 fathers-to-be or new fathers from within Australia will be recruited via the SMS4dads website and randomized to the intervention or control arm. The intervention arm will receive 14 texts per month addressing fathers’ physical and mental health, their relationship with their child, and coparenting with their partner. The control, SMS4health, delivers generic health promotion messages twice per month. Messages are timed according to the babies’ expected or actual date of birth and fathers can enroll from 16 weeks into the pregnancy until their infant is 12 weeks of age. Participants complete questionnaires assessing depression, anxiety, stress, and alcohol at baseline and 24 weeks postenrolment. Measures of coparenting and parenting confidence are also completed at baseline and 24 weeks for postbirth enrolments. Results: Participant were recruited between October 2016 and September 2017. Follow-up data collection has commenced and will be completed in March 2018 with results expected in June 2018. Conclusions: This study’s findings will assess the efficacy of a novel text-based program specifically targeting fathers in the perinatal period to improve their depression, anxiety and distress symptoms, coparenting quality, and parenting self-confidence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere37
JournalJMIR Research Protocols
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018


  • Fathers
  • Mental health
  • Online intervention
  • Perinatal
  • Randomized controlled trial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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