It’s easy to focus on mums in the postnatal period. But let’s not forget dads, who can be suffering in silence.
What do you think of when we say postnatal depression? You’ll probably picture mums, getting used to their new responsibilities and sometimes suffering from mental health issues in the middle of it.
But you might want to rethink this – because mums aren’t the whole picture here. Postnatal depression can affect dads too, as they also experience the huge life change of having a baby.
Whether it’s sleep deprivation, money worries, or the relationship dynamic shifting, dads also have a lot to take on board. On top of this, they might feel guilty when they aren’t the ones breastfeeding at 3am or still bleeding from a 15-hour labour. Here’s what you need to know about postnatal depression in men.
1. The risk of depression doubles in the first year of being a dad
The number of men who become depressed in the first year after becoming a dad is double that of the general population (Davé et al, 2010). First time dads are particularly vulnerable (Fatherhood institute, 2010). One in ten dads-to-be will also become depressed during their partner’s pregnancy (Stadtlander, 2015).
2. Postnatal depression in men often goes undiagnosed
The peak time for postnatal depression in men is three to six months after the birth (Fatherhood Institute, 2010). As with postnatal depression in mums, it often goes unreported. The symptoms can look a lot like the everyday stresses of having a newborn (Musser et al, 2013).
3. Hormonal changes can be to blame
Just as with mums, changes in hormones might make postnatal depression in dads more likely (Saxbe et al, 2017). Hormones including testosterone, oestrogen, cortisol, vasopressin, and prolactin may change in dads during the period after their babies arrive (Kim and Swain, 2007).
4. Postnatal depression in dads is more likely if there is maternal postnatal depression too
It’s true – if one of you is suffering, it’s likely that the other is too. Of fathers with depressed partners, 24% to 50% go through depression themselves (Fatherhood Institute, 2010).
5. A whole lot of factors can make dads more likely to get postnatal depression
Dads who are under 25 are more likely to go through postnatal depression than their older dad counterparts (Davé et al, 2010). Yet age isn’t the only risk factor for postnatal depression in men. Other major risk factors include: a history of depression and anxiety; having a low income; and not being in a relationship with the child’s mother (Huang and Warner, 2005; Wee et al, 2010; Nazareth, 2011).
Other factors that make postnatal depression in men more likely include: sleeping or crying issues with the baby; drug abuse or dependence; and feeling unsupported by their partners (Huang and Warner, 2005; Fatherhood institute, 2010; Stadtlander, 2015). The only thing with these last few factors is that it’s unclear in which direction the effects flow.
6. Postnatal depression in dads can show itself in different ways
A whole host of symptoms to look out for includes:
fear, confusion, helplessness and uncertainty about the future
withdrawal from family life, work and social situations
frustration, irritability, cynicism and anger
negative parenting behaviours
alcohol and drug use
physical symptoms like indigestion, changes in appetite and weight, diarrhoea, constipation, headaches, toothaches and nausea.
(Musser et al, 2013; Stadtlander, 2015)
7. Postnatal depression in dads can take its toll on their relationships
Postnatal depression in dads might put their relationship with the baby’s mother at risk. It can also affect the relationship they have with their child.
Depressed fathers tend to play and engage less with their children and talk more negatively about and to them. They are less likely to sing and read to their children, and more likely to discipline them harshly.
8. Postnatal depression in dads can have an impact on the development of their child
Dads’ depression is associated with emotional, social and behavioural problems as well as developmental delay in their children (Fatherhood Institute, 2010). The association is stronger when a father experiences antenatal and postnatal depression, and when his symptoms are particularly severe. It’s also a stronger association when the mum is going through it (Stadtlander, 2015).
9. Screening is available
You might associate screening more with physical illnesses but mental health diagnoses are slowly catching up. Men who are concerned should pop over to NHS Choices and use the depression screening tool. If you’re concerned, see your GP or call NHS 111.
10. Postnatal depression in dads is treated the same as postnatal depression in mums
The treatment of paternal postnatal depression is in its early stages. Right now, the options for treatment are the same as for mothers with psychotropic medication and/or talking therapies (Nazareth, 2011; NHS Choices, 2016).
If you’re suffering, you could try parenting programmes to give you more confidence in bringing up your baby (Musser et al, 2013). Relationship counselling can also help with that side of things (Musser et al, 2013).
This page was last reviewed in February 2018
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