By Alex Temblador
We’ve heard of postpartum depression, but for the most part, the conversation centers around mothers who deal with it. And for a good reason — up to 1 in 7 mothers deal with postpartum mood disorders which can lead to severe depression, anxiety, loss in appetite, inability to care for oneself or one’s new baby, mood swings, and even sometimes thoughts of suicide. But did you know that dads can experience postnatal depression too?
It’s estimated that 5 to 10% of new fathers become depressed immediately before or after the birth (or adoption) of their child. According to Dr. Will Courtenay, “Men’s hormones change during pregnancy and after their babies are born… Not only do our testosterone levels decrease, but our estrogen levels increase.” Hormone changes, a family history of depression or other mental disorder, sleep deprivation, and stress from a job or relationship are many factors in men experiencing postnatal depression.
“We’re expecting fathers to be more involved in parenting than ever before, but most dads report being unprepared,” says Dr. Courtenay. He added, “So while most dads want to be involved, they don’t really know what that looks like…and many new dads are uncertain about what to do. That uncertainty can quickly lead to anxiety, and we know that anxiety postpartum often leads to depression.”
Psychologist, Dr. James F. Paulson notes that research has found that most dads who deal with postnatal depression, experience it within three to six months after their child is born (though other studies have found that it can occur gradually for up to one year after the child is born). “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the rate of PPPD goes up sharply during the three to six months after birth, just around the time many women end their maternity leave and head back to work,” says Dr. Paulson.
So how can dads (and their family and friends) recognize when they’re suffering from postnatal depression? Though it’s normal for dads to feel anxious, stressed, tired, or down after their child is born, these feelings are typically known as “baby blues” and are short-term. However, if a new dad still feels sad, anxious, or stressed for more than two or three weeks and can’t get out of that mood with working out, hanging with friends, or through other stress relievers, they should seek help from a mental health professional.
Partners can also be on the lookout for any mood or behavioral shifts in their loved one. Does he withdraw? Is he engaging in reckless behaviors or doesn’t want to do the things he normally loves to do? Is he distancing himself from his family or seem sad all the time? Has he made comments about feeling worthless or shared suicidal thoughts?
Seeking help shouldn’t be something that new fathers put off, for like women who suffer from postpartum depression, dads can also experience those scary symptoms like feeling guilty about their childcare or wanting to cause harm to themselves or their children. “I think the big issue for men is to take the depression seriously and be able to recognize it’s really happening,” says Christina Hibbert, PsyD. She notes that some men will withdraw from childcare into sports, work, or hanging with friends, and could even experience violent or impulsive moods and behaviors. Dr. Hibbert also adds: “[With men] there’s lot more risk for alcohol or substance use, and they might experience physical symptoms—internalizing their depression and it comes out as headaches or stomach problems.”
The effects of postnatal depression in fathers doesn’t only affect the dad, but research has shown that it can negatively affect a newborn’s cognitive, social, and emotional development. So it’s important to recognize paternal postnatal depression and seek help immediately for yourself and your child.
The great thing about postnatal depression among fathers is that it’s curable. With professional help, sometimes medication, talking about your feelings, and getting good rest and exercise, dads can get past postnatal depression and live a happy and healthy life with their loved ones.
And if you don’t believe us, take it from Dr. Courtenay: “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. Men need to recognize 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.”