Parenting tip

Depression is caused by emotional and stressful events and having a baby can be an unsettling and challenging experience.

Postnatal depression in dads

Having a baby is a life changing experience for both new mums and dads. This article discusses the effects of postnatal depression on dads and suggests ways to find help.
Postnatal depression (PND) is a form of depression that can happen gradually or all of a sudden, and can range from being relatively mild to very hard hitting. It is estimated that 10% of new mums suffer from PND. In recent years, it has become recognised that PND can also be experienced by dads, sometimes called paternal depression, and either parent is likely to be affected by concern about the other.

A study by the Medical Research Council in 2010 found that one in 28 dads experienced depression in the first year after the birth of their child.

What causes postnatal depression among dads?

Similarly to mums who experience PND, there is no single answer as to why some new dads are affected by depression and not others. Generally, depression is triggered by emotional and stressful events and having a baby can be an unsettling and challenging experience.

The increased pressures of fatherhood and associated responsibility, financial pressures and change in lifestyle, as well as changes in relationships, combined with a lack of sleep and increased workload at home, can all play a part in a new dad’s mental wellbeing.

There are two factors that do appear to have a significant impact on dads experiencing PND:

  • Strained relationship with partner
It would appear that new dads are more prone to depression, both antenatally and postnatally, if the relationship they have with their partner has been strained throughout the pregnancy.
  • Partner experiencing postnatal depression
There is also a moderate but clear link between a dad experiencing depression and his partner also suffering from depression.

Other factors that are likely to influence a new dad experiencing depression are:

  • Age – younger dads can experience higher rates of anxiety and depression.
  • Finance - new dads who are on a low-income are also particularly vulnerable to depression.

As with mums, a new dad’s own personality, social factors, family history and past mental health history can also affect his chance of developing depression.

Common symptoms

The symptoms of PND among dads can be similar to those found amongst new mums experiencing depression, read our article here for more information.
 

How does postnatal depression affect relationships?

In the same way as other forms of depression, depression experienced by a new parent can affect their personal relationships with their baby, partner, older children, family and friends. It does help for new parents and their friends and families to be aware of the symptoms of depression so that, if needed, help and support can be found sooner.

Encouraging mums to support dads in their parenting choices and style may also be helpful. Dads who feel supported by their partners in finding their own ways of caring for their baby are likely to develop a strong connection to their babies and are also unlikely to develop depression.

It may be difficult, upsetting and frustrating to live with someone who has PND, but it's important not to blame them for how they are feeling and to avoid being judgemental.

Perhaps the most important thing to recognise is that someone suffering from PND may need encouragement to seek help, and support to get it. Help them find someone to talk to and reassure them that they will feel better.

What can you do?

The following self-help ideas can help in overcoming PND:
  • Recognise that you may sometimes feel down or low about being a parent.
  • Allow time for yourself, away from work and family.
  • Make sure to talk to your partner, family and friends about how you are feeling.
  • Focus on the enjoyable aspects of parenting.
  • Try to maintain any important hobbies or social events.

It is also important to avoid negative coping strategies, such as drinking too much or working too hard and staying away from home.

Treatment for postnatal depression

There are a range of approaches for treating PND which include:

  • Counselling and therapy
  • Medication

There may be fewer specialist services for men in dealing with postnatal depression but your GP should be able to provide you with any information you need to help make a choice that feels right for you. Some people respond better to one method rather than another.

Talk about it with your GP, or other specialist services and organisations, such as: Mind (in England and Wales), Well Scotland or Niamh (in Northern Ireland). Details for contacting these organisations can be found at the end of this page.

Getting better

Recognising the huge impact having a baby can have on dads as well as mums is so important. Becoming a parent is challenging for men and women so addressing the specific concerns and questions that dads-to-be or new dads might have can only be helpful in antenatal courses and any other antenatal and postnatal support and care that new parents receive.

New dads might also find it useful to talk to other new dads for support and advice on coping with parenthood

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

MIND, a leading mental health charity, has information on postnatal depression, and provides a contact number you can call if you need further help: 0300 123 3393.

The Fatherhood Institute, a think-tank specialising in fatherhood, posts its latest research summary on fathers and postnatal depression.