You’re probably aware that it’s common for women to suffer from postpartum depression after giving birth. In fact, around 1 in 5 new mothers report experiencing symptoms, according to the CDC.
This condition is characterized by various symptoms that can include anger, frequent crying, withdrawal of one’s self, feeling disconnected from the baby, numb emotions, worry over hurting the baby, and feeling inadequate as a mother or unable to care for the baby. For moms — especially new and first-time mamas — enduring postpartum depression on top of the typical challenges associated with the fourth trimester like allowing your body to heal after childbirth and caring for a newborn can be devastating.
But did you know that new fathers can also suffer from this affliction? It’s called paternal postpartum depression (PPND), and it’s very real.
Yes, Men Can Suffer from Postpartum Depression, Too
According to a report from the Journal of the American Medical Association, 10 percent of men around the world show signs of depression from the first trimester of their wife’s pregnancy through six months after the child was born. And those numbers increased to 26 percent during the three- to six-month period after the baby’s arrival. That’s more than twice the rate of depression typically seen in men.
Additionally, a 2014 study published in Pediatrics found that depression among new dads increases by 68 percent during the first five years of their child’s life.
The fact that so many expecting fathers and new dads suffer from PPND should make it a significant public health concern. However, there’s a massive lack of understanding of PPND because there are no common diagnostic criteria for the condition, and unfortunately, it is widely overlooked.
Causes of Postpartum Depression in Dads
The most common diagnostic definition for PPND is derived from the definition used to identify postpartum depression in women. Maternal PPD is diagnosed as a major depressive episode with an onset in the first month after birth that can include the following symptoms:
- Excess sleep
- Severe weight loss or gain
- Unexplained anger or rage
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
- Inability to concentrate
Maternal postpartum depression is largely triggered by hormonal fluctuations, some of which can be extreme, and studies show that men’s hormones undergo a similar shift (or, perhaps, roller coaster ride is more appropriate?) during their partner’s pregnancy and after their baby is born, but the reasons for this remain unknown.
During these months, testosterone levels can plummet, while estrogen, prolactin, and cortisol increase. Fathers can even develop symptoms such as nausea and weight gain (aka sympathetic pregnancy). Some evolutionary biologists suspect this is nature’s way of having the fathers bond with their babies.
It’s these hormone fluctuations, plus the neurochemical changes that occur in the brain as a result of sleep deprivation, that can create the perfect storm for male postpartum depression.
Other risk factors for PPND may include a personal or family history of the depression or this specific disease, relationship instability, financial struggles, and the stress over a sick or premature baby.
But the best indicator of a man’s risk for postpartum depression is whether his wife is also depressed. This is because half of all men who suffer from postpartum depression have partners who are also depressed. One study found that having a partner who is experiencing postpartum depression increased the likelihood of PPD in fathers by as much as 2.5 times, making it even more crucial to look out for signs of PPND if your wife is also experiencing significant depression.
This can devastate the parents’ relationship if the conditions go unacknowledged and untreated, ultimately having a negative effect on the children, as well.
Postpartum depression undoubtedly changes the way parents interact with their children. It can cause them to become short-tempered, overly sensitive, or even disconnect themselves entirely. Studies have shown that the lack of interactions between a father and his children increases the likelihood of behavioral issues in the kids later in life. Similarly, researchers suspect that PPND causes dads to read to their kids less, which can have divesting effects on the child’s language acquisition.
Signs of Postpartum Depression in Men
Don’t downgrade your feelings by thinking postpartum depression is just stress or the “Daddy Blues.” If that’s all it was, you’d likely feel better after getting more adequate sleep, exercising, getting out of the house, or socializing with friends. With true depression, it’s chemically impossible for these things that may have worked in the past to completely alleviate the issues at hand now. PPND symptoms are severe and last longer, and they can include:
- Sadness, irritability, agitation, rage, and/or anger
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Shortness of breath
- Lowered libido
- Loss of interest in activities that used to bring them joy
- Engagement in risky behaviors like alcohol, drugs, gambling, or extramarital affairs
- Heart palpitations
- Becoming a “workaholic” and avoiding life at home
- Discouraging their female partners from breastfeeding or pumping
Society’s Stigma around Paternal Postpartum Depression
There’s an unfortunate and unrealistic cultural standard that says men should tough things out and be less emotional than women. So, it’s no surprise that when a new father starts to show signs of depression by feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or out of control, they don’t typically vocalize those feelings or seek help on their own. Where women tend to have a larger social network and support system and may not hesitate with sharing their emotions or struggles with other women, many men don’t have that outlet or tribe to confide in, making them feel even more isolated in their feelings.
Experts today believe that PPND might be more prevalent now because the modern generation of dads is more involved with their wives’ pregnancies and their families in general. They may also experience similar psychological, social, and economic stressors that mothers have long felt. Additionally, more dads are staying home full-time while mom serves as the breadwinner than ever before, resulting in them shouldering the majority of childcare and household responsibilities that typically fell to women.
In other words, like so many new mothers, these fathers are stressed out, not sleeping, and reaching their breaking point, which when combined with hormonal changes beyond their control can lead to PPND
However, despite how far American family roles have come in recent years, male postpartum depression is very often eclipsed by its female counterpart. Maybe because there is so much emphasis on new moms after childbirth, or because men would rather suppress their feelings than discuss them.
It’s important to emphasize that PPND is a medical condition and not a sign of weakness in character. By admitting that they’re depressed, men are taking charge of their life, and speaking personally, there’s nothing more attractive than a man who is in tune with his own emotions and body. We can only hope that increased knowledge about this common condition opens doors for conversation.
Treatment for Paternal Postpartum Depression
Are you concerned that your husband or someone you love has PPND? Here are some warning signs to look out for:
- Has he become uncharacteristically irritable or easily agitated?
- Does he distance himself from his partner and their baby?
- Is Mom suffering from postpartum depression too?
- Does he have a personal or family history of depression?
- Does he spend more time than usual at work?
- Is he sad, tearful, or uninterested in doing things that he used to enjoy?
- Does he make comments that he feels worthless or shares suicidal thoughts?
If a new dad’s “blues” drags on for weeks, it’s likely something more serious. Untreated postpartum depression only gets worse with time, lasting upwards of months if ignored with potentially dire consequences. The best course of action is seeking help from a medical professional, both for himself and the benefit of his family. If there is any concern that you or a man you love may harm themselves or a child, seek help immediately. PPND is something much easier treated early on than ignored and dealt with later.
Recent research shows that talk therapy is very effective in treating depression, especially when combined with medication. But there are lots of treatments that range from traditional to alternative. What’s important is that a dad who suspects he is dealing with PPND receives help from a licensed mental health professional; bonus points if they specialize in men.
It’s also beneficial to seek support from social groups and others who may be enduring the same affliction. Postpartummen.com is a wonderful resource with tons of information available, as well as a means for new dads to connect with each other and share their feelings anonymously.
It’s critical that men suffering from PPND keep in mind that all of the negative side effects of this disease are treatable and avoidable. With proper treatment and support, men can make a full recovery. People should always prioritize their own needs when seeking mental health treatment, but like so many other ailments, treating male postpartum depression will also benefit his relationship with his partner and his children.