Postpartum Depression is an illness usually associated with women, but it may come as a surprise to learn that it can also affect men. Studies have shown that one in ten new fathers will experience some of the symptoms of Paternal postpartum depression within three to six months of their baby being born, but their struggles are more likely to go unrecognised than those of their partner.
As with female Postpartum Depression, there is no single cause for why some men develop Paternal Postpartum Depression and not others, although there are groups of men who have been shown to be more likely to suffer from it. research by the UK’s National Childbirth Trust showed that men who had a strained relationship with their partner throughout the pregnancy had an increased risk, along with younger fathers and men who were struggling financially. Men were also more likely to develop it if their partner had Postpartum Depression too.
The symptoms of Paternal Postpartum Depression are very similar to those experienced by women and include:
Feeling very low and despairing
Feeling guilty, irritable or angry
Being unable to sleep, waking early or having nightmares
Having difficulty concentrating or making decisions
Worrying excessively about the baby’s health and wellbeing
Feeling like a failure or feeling inadequate
Comfort eating or not eating at all
Physical symptoms such as headaches
Having thoughts about harming yourself or the baby
However there are symptoms which appear specific to men and include:
A sense of being excluded from the relationship between the mother and baby
Conflict between how you think you should be and how you actually are
Suffering panic attacks or extreme anxiety
Socialising less and avoiding friends
Lack of interest in sex
Not doing well at work
It can be difficult for men to recognise that they are suffering from Paternal Postpartum Depression as there isn’t the same focus and attention given to male postpartum mental health, also it can be hard to identify it as being more than the usual stress, upheaval and challenge a new baby brings. Research has shown that men often don’t acknowledge feelings of sadness, hopelessness or despair, so depression can often be missed by trained mental health professionals. We live in a society that adheres to the cultural myth that men should be stoic and tough and it can be difficult to change a lifetime of conditioning. Women are more likely to talk about their Postpartum Depression, but men are more likely to employ negative coping mechanisms such as drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and working too much, withdrawing into themselves and reacting with anger.
Getting Help for Paternal Postpartum Depression
If you are a man who thinks you may be suffering from Paternal Postpartum Depression it’s important not to ignore it, as left untreated it could get worse or damage your marriage, career or relationship with the baby. There is so much help available and lots of different treatments you could try and the first step is to talk to someone about how you are feeling. It can be difficult to open up, but it’s important to remember that mental health issues are just the same as physical health problems and there is no shame in asking for help. It doesn’t make you less of a man or father to admit your difficulties and Paternal Postpartum Depression is an illness, not a personal weakness. It can help to think of it as being the same as a broken leg; you wouldn’t walk around on it without seeking treatment and mental health is no different.
The first stage is to be honest with yourself about how you feel. There is a short online assessment you could take if you think you may have Paternal Postpartum Depression here although this is to be used as a general guideline and isn’t a substitute for a medical diagnosis. Your doctor is the best person to talk to initially as they can recommend various types of treatment. The options available include:
Medication such as anti-depressants
peer support groups
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
It’s important to also reach out to friends, family and co-workers for support too and don’t try to deal with the feelings alone. You could also see if there are any local Dad’s groups or family support agencies who could offer advice. Self-help options can be used alongside any medical treatments such as exercise and making time for interests and hobbies, even if it is only for an hour here and there. There is also a vast amount of support online if it is easier to remain anonymous such as support forums where you can chat with other Dads, plus there are numerous websites offering advice and coping skills. You could also try telephone helplines if it is easier to access support over the phone. If your partner is also suffering from Postpartum Depression you may both need to seek treatment and support at the same time or you could try family therapy.