We’re all pretty much aware new mothers are facing postpartum depression at near epidemic rates. But what about fathers? Do new dads experience postpartum depression?
Around 1 in 5 women will experience a postpartum mood disorder.
Research has now found a link between new dads and experiences of depression and lower testosterone levels.
Do New Dads Experience Postpartum Depression?
The new study from the University of Southern California focused on new fathers. It looked into their hormones, depression, and what could be causing it.
Around 7-10% of new fathers show signs of depression. Researchers noted many dads might feel down in the dumps, but it’s not necessarily depression.
But is what they’re experiencing really postpartum depression? Men seem to think so, but what does the research say?
What Is Postpartum Depression?
Mothers who experience an onset of depression within the first twelve months after the birth of a baby are diagnosed with postpartum depression.
Although it’s sometimes blamed on hormones, research hasn’t pinpointed the cause of postpartum depression.
We’ve identified risk factors and found treatment options, but the exact cause remains uncertain.
You can read more in Mood Changes After Birth: The Blues Or Depression.
Postpartum depression has traditionally been associated with women. The toll of pregnancy, hormone fluctuations, the intensity of labour and birth, the demands of new motherhood, and a lack of adequate support are often thought to be triggers.
So, what does this mean for the new dads struggling with signs of depression?
Can Men Struggle With Postpartum Depression?
“We know testosterone drops in new dads, but we don’t know why”, says Darby Saxbe, author of the new report.
“It’s often been suggested hormones underlie some of the postpartum depression in moms, but there’s been so much less attention paid to fathers. We were trying to put together the pieces to solve this puzzle. The idea that parents who haven’t given birth can get postpartum depression isn’t entirely new. Studies have shown, for example, that moms and dads who adopt children also show signs of the condition”.
For the 7-10% of men experiencing depression, the research didn’t necessarily confirm it as postpartum depression, or the same as the depression new mothers face (cue every mama who has experienced PPD saying “Of course it isn’t!”)
The research found men who experienced signs of depression had lower testosterone levels than dads who weren’t experiencing depression. However, correlation doesn’t equal causation.
“To a certain extent, any postpartum depression is just depression that happens to emerge in the postpartum period”, the study’s author added. “It’s not super conclusive that there’s an obvious hormonal reason in women, either”.
Essentially, new dads are experiencing depression which happens to coincide with the birth of a new child.
We know new dads can experience hormonal fluctuations, although we aren’t sure how and why it happens. It is not necessarily the cause of their depression.
More than likely, the big lifestyle changes that accompany the arrival of a new baby can trigger signs of depression.
How Does Depression In New Dads Affect The Family?
Untreated depression in either parent can have a big impact on a family. For new mums and dads, depression in one partner, or both, can have a major effect on their entire relationship.
Regardless of whether dads are experiencing postpartum depression, or depression due to the stress of lifestyle changes, it’s important to address their symptoms.
The researchers made another interesting finding: mothers with partners who had lower testosterone levels were less likely to experience postpartum depression.
Mothers with partners who had higher levels of testosterone, on the other hand, were more likely to experience PPD, and were also more at risk for intimate partner violence.
What does that mean?
Even if there is a correlation between lower testosterone and depression in new fathers, treating them with testosterone replacement therapy could come with risks to their partners.
It’s unclear why lower testosterone in new dads is protective of new mothers, but treating the symptoms of depression, rather than hormone treatment, seems to be the safest way. Especially as there is not a definite correlation between hormone levels and depression.
Regardless of hormone levels, it is important to treat depression in new dads.
Untreated depression can affect families by:
- Increasing the likelihood and frequency of spanking children
- Negatively affecting a child’s development and even academic success
- Increasing cognitive and language development delays in children
- Affecting a child’s social skills and behaviour
- Parents having less interaction with their children, including less time spent reading to them.
Be sure to read Dad’s Mood Plays A Key Role In Child Development to learn more about the importance of treating depression.
What Is The Take Away From This Research?
Unfortunately, we aren’t certain what causes PPD. Neither are we sure why some fathers experience symptoms of depression similar to PPD.
We also aren’t fully aware of the impact hormone levels have on depression, although we see some correlations between low levels of testosterone and feelings of depression.
One interesting take away might be this: hormone fluctuations in men (although less drastic than those in new mamas) could potentially be biologically normal, as they seem to be protective of men’s partners and children.
Perhaps, as in new mothers, the natural hormone changes in new dads might not be the trigger for depression, but a normal adjustment.
In a cultural that doesn’t value rest or support for new families, however, these natural hormone shifts, combined with a stressful new life change, could be a recipe for depression.
Certainly, that’s opinion and not evidence based. But in a culture where one in three to five women experiences postpartum mood disorders, and up to one in ten new dads experiences mood disorders, perhaps, as a society, we’re doing something wrong.
Is our lack of support for new parents the real culprit in the stresses both men and women face?
Is the lack of attention and preparation most new dads experience setting them up for a difficult transition to parenthood?
Most importantly, if you’re a dad suffering from depression, regardless of the cause, be sure to talk to your doctor.
You don’t need to suffer through the early months with your new baby.
Depression, whether situational, clinical or postpartum, is treatable.