The birth of a child can be emotionally challenging for many parents. Read about how postnatal depression can also affect fathers including causes, symptoms and treatment.
What causes postnatal depression in fathers?
Common symptoms of postnatal depression in dads
How does postnatal depression affect relationships?
Treatment for paternal postnatal depression
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, more financial responsibility, changes in relationships and lifestyle, combined with a lack of sleep and an increased workload at home, may all affect a new dad’s mental wellbeing. Concern about their partner is another worry for new fathers.
There are two factors that do appear to have a significant impact on dads experiencing PND:
1. 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.
2. Partner experiencing postnatal depression
There is also a moderate but clear link between a dad experiencing depression and his partner also suffering from depression.
- 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 of postnatal depression in dads
- Feeling very low, or despondent, that life is a long, grey tunnel, and that there is no hope. Feeling tired and very lethargic, or even quite numb. Not wanting to do anything or take an interest in the outside world.
- Feeling a sense of inadequacy or unable to cope.
- Feeling guilty about not coping, or about not loving their baby enough.
- Being unusually irritable, which makes the guilt worse.
- Wanting to cry/crying a lot or even constantly.
- Having obsessive and irrational thoughts which can be very scary.
- Loss of appetite, which may go with feeling hungry all the time, but being unable to eat.
- Comfort eating.
- Having difficulty sleeping: either not getting to sleep, waking early, or having vivid nightmares.
- Being hostile or indifferent to their partner and/or baby.
- Having panic attacks, which strike at any time, causing a rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms and feelings of sickness or faintness.
- Having an overpowering anxiety, often about things that wouldn't normally bother them, such as being alone in the house.
- Having difficulty in concentrating or making decisions.
- Experiencing physical symptoms, such as headaches.
- Having obsessive fears about baby's health or wellbeing, or about themselves and other members of the family.
- Having disturbing thoughts about harming themselves or their baby.
- Having thoughts about death.
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 less likely 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 if you think you have male postnatal depression?
- Men can sometimes feel uncomfortable about opening up about their feelings but it's so important that you seek the support you need. Share your feelings with people you trust. This could be your family or friends, a health professional or a counsellor.
- Although many new parents experience mood changes or feel down some of the time, you may find that feelings of anxiety or low mood persist. If you have concerns about your own or your partner’s mental health, it’s best to seek help from your GP who can help you to access support services.
- Try to take some time for yourself by maintaining involvement in hobbies, exercise, or social activities, even an hour here or there can make a difference.
- It may help to meet other new dads. Dads groups are becoming more and more common as a place for men to share their thoughts and experiences of becoming a parent with their peers. Find out if there is a group in your area. Your local NCT branch might be able to put you in touch with one.
- One symptom of PND, as described above, is feeling guilty about not loving your baby enough or feeling indifferent to them. Try and remember that you are important and special to your baby and, if you can, spend time doing simple things like bathing them, changing their nappy or just playing. This might help you feel closer to them.
- Take some exercise each day, like a walk with the buggy or swimming. Exercise can have a positive effect on mood and sense of wellbeing.
- It's also important to avoid negative coping strategies, such as drinking too much or working too hard and staying away from home. Sharing your thoughts and feelings - as hard as that might feel - is probably the best thing you can do.
If you've tried to help yourself but you're still feeling low and experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, then it's best to see your GP who can talk through other options (see below).
There are a range of approaches for treating PND which include:
- Counselling and therapy
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Accredited peer support groups
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.
Counselling and therapy
Talking treatments, such as counselling and psychotherapy, offer you the opportunity to look at the underlying factors that have contributed to PND, as well as helping you to change the way you feel.
If a friend or someone you know recommends a therapist, this can be a great way to find someone. If you don't feel that the method of therapy or the therapist isn't working for you, you can always change and try someone else. Private practitioners will charge a fee for their services so this will probably be another factor in your decision.
Whoever you choose, make sure your therapist is registered with an accredited body, such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) or British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC). You could also contact your Community Mental Health Team.
Your GP may prescribe antidepressants which can help to ease many of the symptoms of moderate or severe PND and give you some breathing space to adjust to the changes involved in becoming a parent.
Antidepressants are prescribed for at least six months, often longer, as it may take several weeks to reach their full effectiveness. During this time they may initially heighten some of your symptoms, such as insomnia and anxiety. In addition, when you stop taking them, it’s advisable to do so slowly in order to avoid any withdrawal side effects.
Men with symptoms of PND might be reluctant to take medication due to the fear of becoming dependant. Talk through any concerns with your GP.
Peer support in the right environment can be of great benefit to parents affected by antenatal depression and PND. Speaking to someone who has been through what you’re going through and who has recovered allows dads to see they can get better (see #PNDHour below).
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.