Written by Caroline Meyer
It is not only women that can suffer from depression during and after pregnancy. Up to 25% of Dads are also affected by depression during and up to a year postpartum. While depression is fairly common, it is diagnosed in twice as many men during and after the birth of a child. This is particularly prevalent in first time Dads. The figure could be even higher as depression in men often goes undiagnosed. The peak time that postnatal depression is experienced by men is when baby is about 3 to 6 months old. The symptoms of PND in men can appear similar to normal stress from having a newborn in the home. When mum also suffers from PND, Dads are a lot more likely to develop PND. There is a 50% higher rate of PND in men who have a partner diagnosed with PPD.
When mum and dad both suffer from PPD, this can have a serious effect on the family’s wellbeing, especially that of the children. If you suspect that either of you are suffering from PPD, speak to your doctor for assistance.
Dads under 25 are more likely to suffer from PND than older Dads. Financial stress can also contribute towards PND. Dads that do not have a genial relationship with the mother of the child are also far more likely to suffer from PND. Another major risk factor is a history of anxiety and depression prior to the pregnancy and birth of the child. High stress levels are a major risk factor and needs to be taken in to account when looking at the risk of PND in Dads. Dads who are having trouble bonding with the new baby or who feel jealous over the mum’s bond with baby are also at risk. Dads who feel excluded from parenting or who are overly concerned over the changes in their relationship with mum, such as a reduced amount of intimacy may develop PND. Dads who grew up with a poor male role model or none at all or who lack support from friends and family may develop postnatal depression as well. Dads who see parenting as just a grind and do not gain any fulfilment from their parenting roles may have a greater likelihood of developing depression postpartum.
If mum has mild to severe depression during pregnancy and after the birth, dad could also develop PND. Up to 50% of men who have a partner suffering from PND may also develop depression symptoms. Believe it or not, hormones also come in to play with male PND. Dads are likely to experience changes in oestrogen, testosterone, vasopressin, cortisol and prolactin after the birth of a baby. A lack of sleep due to the new baby or being overly upset by baby crying, dependence on alcohol or other substances as well as feeling that their partner is not being supportive of their needs after baby arrives can also contribute to PND. While these are potential risk factors, they may not necessarily be the direct cause of the depression experienced. Counselling may be of benefit to try and find some of the underlying issues.
SYMPTOMS OF MALE POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION
Postpartum Depression in men can manifest in a variety of ways. They may not be weepy or show signs of being unhappy but may instead show anger and frustration. They may make impulsive decisions, become irritable easily and may not be able to experience joy or pleasure in things they may have found pleasurable in the past. They may turn to substance abuse as an outlet. There are also cases of PPD in men leading to domestic violence. They may also show resistance to their partner using a breast pump or breastfeeding the baby. Some of the warning sign include indecisiveness, fear, helplessness, frustration, confusion, irritability, anger, cynicism, uncertainty about the future, withdrawal from friends and family, a lack of social interaction at work or when out with other people, negative parenting behaviours, insomnia, conflict or violence with a partner. They may also experience physical symptoms such as digestive upsets, toothache, appetite and weight changes, nausea and indigestion.
While new mums are screened for depression a lot more regularly and should ideally be screened during pregnancy and at 1, 2, 4 and 6 months postpartum, Dads are seldom screened. If you suspect PND, request that you be screened as well. Early detection of depression means that treatment and support is accessed sooner, allowing for the person to receive help before there is damage to the family unit as a whole.
EFFECTS OF PATERNAL POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION
Depression in Dads influences his interactions with his partner and his children. A Dad who is suffering from depression is less likely to interact positively with his children through games, sports and rituals such as bathing and bedtime. Dads with PND are also more likely to have negative interactions such as yelling and spanking. The negative influences can lead to behavioural and emotional problems in the children later on in life. There is also some suggestion that PND in men can lead to developmental delays in their children. Dads who suffer from depression during and after the birth, especially those with severe symptoms are more likely to have children that do not keep up with their peers in terms of development milestones. Dads with PND may also have an effect on Mum, leading to mental health problems on her side as well. This is often caused due to conflict in the relationship making Mum more vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Children of Mums with PND may find some mitigation of the effects from a nurturing Dad, but when Dad also has PND, this effect is lost and the children suffer.
PND can result in Dads who withdraw and do not interact with their children and even the Mum. This can have far reaching effects on the well-being and happiness of the child.
TREATING POSTNATAL DEPRESSION
Postnatal depression in dads is treated the same as postnatal depression in mums at this point. There are not yet specific treatments in place for Dads only. This usually means psychotropic medication, counselling and other forms of talking therapies. Community interaction and relationship counselling can also have a positive effect on PND in Dads. The most important thing is to get diagnosed as early as possible so that you can get treatment and be able to offer your child and partner the love and support they need. Speak to your health care provider to be screened and find ways of coping while you are recovering from PND. There is no stigma when it comes to mental health and PND does not make you a bad parent. With treatment and support you will be able to care for your family the way you would want to. Improve your relationship with your partner and your child by getting help as soon as you can. Depression can be mitigated and you are not alone. If you have feelings of self-harm or potentially doing harm to others, get help immediately. Don’t be afraid to speak out. PND can be treated.