Postnatal depression is estimated to affect up to 20% of mothers in the first year following birth.
There has been an increase in the focus on postnatal depression, with health services and campaigns bringing attention to this postpartum mood disorder.
And although this increased awareness of postnatal mood disorders in new mothers is encouraging, very little is being said about a related fact: new fathers can also have postnatal depression (PND).
Postnatal Depression And New Dads
What is even more challenging is diagnosis and treatment for men are almost virtually impossible.
As a result, too many new fathers struggle to cope with depression and anxiety, and are at an increase risk of suicide.
Is PND In Dads The Same As In Mothers?
Postnatal depression does not differ a great deal from what we think of as traditional depression, except it occurs in the first year after the birth of a baby.
The symptoms of PND are similar in new fathers as they are in new mothers.
However, because of social norms that expect men to be strong and not show emotion, many fathers don’t realise what is happening.
Common symptoms of PND in dads are:
- Feelings of despondency – that there is no hope
- Tiredness and lethargy – feeling numb, not taking interest in anything
- Sense of inability to cope or feeling worthless
- Guilt about not coping, being supportive or loving their baby
- Feeling like crying a lot, or constantly
- Having irrational or obsessive thoughts
- Lack of appetite – inability to eat, even when hungry
- Comfort eating
- Sleeping problems – difficulty in getting to sleep or waking early
- Vivid nightmares
- Acting with hostility towards partner and/or baby
- Feeling overwhelmed by anxiety about things that aren’t usually a problem
- Difficulty in concentrating or making decisions
- Panic attacks, causing increased heart rate, sweating and nausea, or fainting
- Headaches, stomach aches
- Excessive fear about the health and safety of baby, partner or themselves.
- Thoughts about harming the baby or themselves
- Recurring thoughts about death and dying.
What Causes PND In Dads?
The exact cause of PND isn’t known but it’s commonly thought to be related to hormonal changes. Although hormones are probably partly responsible, it’s also just as likely other factors are involved.
The following are some of the risk factors that increase the chance of PND after birth for women:
- Birth trauma
- Fertility problems
- Difficult pregnancy
- Lack of support
- Financial difficulties or poverty
- Family history of depression
- Relationship problems
- Stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one, or moving house
- Family violence or past history of abuse.
As with women, there’s no clear cut answer as to why some men are affected by PND and others aren’t. However, two factors appears to have an impact on whether or not a new dad will develop PND:
- A strained relationship with their partners, during pregnancy, increases the chances of antenatal and postnatal depression in new dads
- The study shows the chance of new dads experiencing depression increases 2.5 times if their partners have also suffered from depression.
While women are undergoing massive physical and emotional adjustments to life as a mother, dads might be struggling to deal with the impact of fatherhood on their own lives.
Men can feel helpless in the face of fertility problems, difficult pregnancies or birth trauma. Society expects men not to show their emotions, but to have a ‘just get on with it’ attitude. This doesn’t leave room for men to process what’s happened and develop strategies to cope.
There is also the very overwhelming responsibility that comes with a new baby and men feel the intensity of pressure to support and provide for a family. The situation is a perfect storm waiting for depression to rear its head.
How Many Men Have PND?
Currently, only mothers are formally diagnosed with PND, so it is difficult to know how many dads experience it themselves. However, research shows the number of fathers experiencing symptoms of depression after their child is born could be as high as 10%.
Other research from the NCT in the UK shows almost 48% of new dads are worried about their own mental health. According to studies from the National Institute of Health (US), PND in men affects 4-25% of new fathers.
Overall, most studies show around 10% of dads have PND and they are more likely to experience depression 3-6 months after the birth of their baby.
This is approximately half the number of mothers who go through PND but it is no less significant or important.
Support For Dads With PND
As mentioned before, focus on PND has mostly been on mothers – rightly so as this problem has continually been swept under the carpet for many years. The significant impact PND has on mothers, babies and their families can no longer be ignored.
At the same time, it is vitally important to acknowledge dads are depressed, and to provide them with valuable support. Research suggests a dad with PND can have a damaging effect on his child’s psychological, social and behavioural development, particularly if the child is a boy.
These effects are seen in children as young as two, through adolescence, and in early adulthood. This is also true when the mother has PND, although the effects are increased when both parents are depressed.
Too many men with depression try to go it alone and don’t seek the support and treatment they need. When left untreated, PND can become worse, and have devastating effects, such as ruined relationships, health problems, financial difficulties, and suicide.
Around the world, men commit suicide more frequently than women, despite women typically having higher reported rates of depression.
Can PND Be Prevented?
The first priority for men is to understand whether they are at risk for PND and address any potential causes, before baby is born, if possible.
If you have a family history of depression, seek the support of a mental health professional before your baby is born, so you can work through strategies for coping.
If there are problems in the relationship, couples should see a relationship counsellor before the birth, so they can address poor communication or other problems.
Once baby arrives, relationships can take a pretty hard hit for a while. Then add sleep deprivation, and the reality of couples often not feeling equipped for the huge changes having a baby brings to their relationship.
Take the time to address problems and create coping strategies before relationship problems happen.
Dads are often concerned about the pressure of supporting a family financially. Rather than worry or avoid thinking about it, seek the help of a financial planner or set up a budget ahead of time.
Where there might be a lack of social or family support, it’s important to fill that gap. This will increases your support network for when your baby arrives.
Some things you can do:
- Organise postnatal help, so you can both enjoy time bonding with baby and supporting each other.
- Attend parenting classes. Learning about the transition to parenting can help you better understand where and when support will be needed.
- Understand your relationship and intimacy with your partner will change, and might take time to return to normal.
- Join a support group for dads to be, especially a local one which can help build networks for you once baby is born.
Many dads today grew up with fathers who weren’t encouraged to be actively involved in parenting. It can be hard to know how to cope with the challenges of parenting when you don’t know what parenting looks like.
The social pressure to hide their feelings has also led to men to feel they have to be tough and never ask for help.
These factors make it difficult for men to recognise when they are depressed and then seek professional support and help to recover.
Strategies For Dads With PND
Admitting you’re depressed is a big step forward to getting the help and support you need. Your family doctor or a counsellor is the best person to talk to, but you can also share how you’re feeling with your partner, family or friends.
Although many health care professionals are still catching up on the reality of male PND, if you have concerns about your mental health, or persistent feelings of low mood or anxiety, see your family doctor, and ask for help to access support and treatment.
Other ways to bring about change:
- Stay involved in and maintain your hobbies, exercise or other interests, even if it’s only a short time each week
- Dads groups are becoming much more common and can help you build a social network
- Remember you are important to your baby. Try to spend time doing simple things, such as changing nappies, playing, or taking your baby for a walk. This helps you to feel closer and move through any feelings of guilt you might have about not loving your baby enough.
- Try to get some exercise every day, even if it’s a stroll with baby in the carrier, or a jog. Exercise is well known for improving mood.
- Avoid coping strategies that are damaging to your health or your relationship, such as drinking too much or increasing your workload so you’re not at home.
- Share your thoughts and feelings with your partner, trusted friends and family, so they can understand and support you.
If you, or someone you know, is suffering from depression, or if you have concerns about your mental health, or theirs, seek support from your local mental health support service.
Crisis Text Line – Text 741741 from anywhere in the USA