Postpartum or postnatal depression isn’t just something new mothers can get. You’ve heard plenty of stories about women experiencing postpartum depression. After all, the condition affects about one in nine new mothers. But you may not know it can affect new fathers, too. For men it’s called Paternal Postpartum Depression.
A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 10 percent of men worldwide showed signs of depression from the first trimester of their wife’s pregnancy up until six months after the child was born. The number spiked to a whopping 26 percent during the three- to six-month period after the baby’s arrival. That’s more than twice the rate of depression usually seen in men.
Not Enough Attention
There’s been too little focus on fathers when it comes to PPD. During the last decade, several studies have examined the prevalence of PPD in men, with rising evidence that PPD is associated with an increased risk of long-term adverse behavioural and emotional behaviour in children.
Whether it’s sleep deprivation, money worries, new responsibilities, or the relationship dynamic shifting, dads have a lot to take on board. This is a huge life change for both parents. On top of this, dads might feel guilty about what their partner is going through, knowing they aren’t the ones breastfeeding at 3am or healing from labour and birth.
Just as with mums, changes in hormones might make postnatal depression in dads more likely. Hormones including testosterone, oestrogen, cortisol, vasopressin, and prolactin may change in dads during the period after their babies arrive.
Dads who are under 25 are more likely to go through postnatal depression than their older counterparts. Yet age isn’t the only risk factor for postnatal depression in men. Other major risk factors include a history of depression and anxiety and financial pressures. Evidence also shows that not being in a relationship with the child’s mother. Other factors that make postnatal depression in men more likely include: sleeping or crying issues with the baby; drug abuse or dependence and feeling unsupported by their partners. However, the cause and effect is unclear so these factors might not necessarily be the direct cause of mental health difficulties.
We often talk about mothers suffering from PPD, so it is more normalized for mothers to bring it up or for loved ones to ask mothers about how they are doing physically and psychologically after the birth. For fathers, it is not discussed as commonly, so friends and families don’t often ask dads, and dads don’t know where to turn.
Postnatal depression in dads can show itself in different ways. Some symptoms include but are not limited too are:
- fear, confusion, helplessness and uncertainty about the future
- withdrawal from family life, work and social situations
- working longer hours
- feelings of worthlessness
- frustration, irritability, cynicism and anger
- marital conflict
- partner violence
- negative parenting behaviours
- alcohol and drug use
- physical symptoms like indigestion, changes in appetite and weight, diarrhoea, constipation, headaches, toothaches and nausea.
Other risk factors for paternal postpartum depression include a history of the disease, relationship instability, financial problems or stress, and a sick or premature baby. Men who’ve experienced the loss of loved ones, either in the adult years prior to becoming a parent or while growing up are also at increased risk for depression. Symptoms of PPD can stick around for weeks or months if left untreated and it can have serious repercussions when ignored.
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Do You Or Someone You Know Have Postpartum Depression?
Do you think yourself or a loved one has male postpartum depression? The best course of action is getting help for the sake of the dad’s mental health and the overall well-being of the family. Watch out for these symptoms and speak with a professional if you’re concerned.
- Has he become uncharacteristically irritable or agitated?
- Is he distancing himself from his partner and the baby?
- Is he gambling, drinking, taking drugs, or engaging in other reckless behaviours?
- Does he have a personal or family history of depression?
- Is he sad, tearful, or uninterested in doing things that he used to enjoy?
- Does he make comments that he feels worthless or shares suicidal thoughts?
- Does he spend more time than usual at work?
- Is Mum suffering from postpartum depression too?
Research shows that talk therapy is very effective in treating depression, and it can be combined with medication. But there are lots of treatments that range from traditional to alternative. The important thing is that a man get help, preferably from a licensed mental health professional and one who specialises in working with men. Also, seek out support groups and sites like Postpartummen.com. These resources provide facts about postpartum depression in men, and they also act as an online forum where men can share their feelings anonymously.
Keep trying until you find the mental health treatment that’s right for you. The important thing to remember is that all of the negative consequences of paternal postpartum depression are avoidable. Although it’s a very serious and sometimes a life-threatening condition, with proper treatment and support, men can fully recover. Getting help can save a man’s life or his marriage. And if a father can’t do it for himself, he should get help for the well-being of his child.
The Stigma Around Male Postpartum Depression
Our society subscribes to the cultural myth that men should be stoic and tough things out. So when men start to feel anxious, empty, or out of control, they don’t understand it and they certainly don’t ask for help. Women, on the other hand, tend to have a larger social network and share stories and strategies during pregnancy and life as a mom. Their husbands almost always assume they’re alone in feeling sad or scared to be a dad.
Experts believe that paternal postpartum depression may be more prevalent now largely because this generation of fathers is feeling the same psychological, social, and economic stressors that some mothers have long experienced. The trend toward dads staying home with baby while mum goes off to work is becoming more widespread. With more mums working, dads are shouldering child care and household tasks that traditionally fell to women. They have plenty of stress and little sleep, and this, along with hormonal changes, can lead to depression.
Yet despite all of that, male postpartum depression is still easily eclipsed by its maternal counterpart. Perhaps because many men would rather hide their feelings than talk about them, which can make the situation at home much more tense. Hopefully increased knowledge about this common condition will open the doors for conversation.
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Men need to recognise that depression is a medical condition; it’s not a weakness of character. For a man to admit he’s depressed isn’t unmanly or admitting defeat. It’s taking charge of his life.