Can new fathers have postpartum depression?
Yes, they most certainly can.
At least according to a research article published in the Journal of Family Issues.
New parents should be aware of this possibility and doctors should be on the lookout for it, say the researchers.
Information for the study came from blogs, websites, forums, and chat rooms where new fathers were sharing their stories.
In those postings, fathers said they didn’t know that men could have postpartum depression and women who saw the signs were unsure what to call it.
New fathers were frustrated by the lack of information and that the information they did find focused on mothers.
Just like many new moms, new dads also said they felt overwhelmed, exhausted, and trapped.
Many felt neglected by their wives, the healthcare system, and society. Some came to resent the constant needs of the baby.
The research team, led by Brandon Eddy, couple and family therapy professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, acknowledged several study limitations.
The researchers didn’t have access to the fathers to ask specific questions or to verify who they were.
They couldn’t validate if the fathers received a diagnosis of postpartum depression from a physician or mental health professional.
They also had no way of knowing if the fathers had experienced depression before, or if it was present before the baby was born.
Like women, men can develop depression.
But there’s no specific measurement to assess postpartum depression in fathers as there is for mothers.
This isn’t the first study to tackle the issue.
A 2014 longitudinal, population-based study noted that the rate of depression in fathers worldwide ranges from 5 to 10 percent. The study found that the rate is higher among fathers who don’t live with their children. Also, men who live with their children show increasing depressive symptoms as their kids grow to age 5.
According to the Mayo Clinic, fathers who are young, have a history of depression, or have relationship or financial problems are most at risk of postpartum depression.
Dr. Michael Brodsky is LA Care Health Plan’s medical director for behavioral health and social services in California.
Brodsky told Healthline that being a qualitative study, this particular research doesn’t say much about how many men are affected by postpartum depression or how long it lasts.
“But the study does a good job of describing the sorts of themes that come up when depressed new fathers write about their experiences on the internet,” he said.
Brodsky explained that the study confirms what he sees in clinical practice all the time.
“Young men of reproductive age who, while seeking to be supportive of their romantic partners and their newborn child, are at risk of feeling discouraged, depressed, exhausted, or overwhelmed by the pressures and obligations of new parenthood,” he said.
As many stressors as there are associated with having a new baby, Brodsky said that other things can factor into a depressed mood.
“For example, job performance may suffer as a result of the sleep deprivation tied to caring for a newborn, leading to increased conflict with supervisors. Or the loss of supportive relationships with friends or relatives may deepen a new father’s sense of depression or hopelessness. These types of stressors may increase the risk of developing depression,” he explained.
Dr. Ilan Shapiro is a pediatrician with AltaMed Health Services in California and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
He agrees that postpartum depression in fathers is a reality.
“Take lack of sleep, change in the entire dynamics of life, a baby who depends on you and demands a lot of time — putting everything together, the entire family is exposed to this stress,” he told Healthline.
“When you’re chronically stressed, it affects cortisol and other stress hormones. Stress hormones are good, but under continuing pressure and anxiety, it wears down the immune system. We need to be alert to help everybody,” said Shapiro.
Fathers in the study felt pressure to conform to stereotypical “tough guy” roles and to keep their feelings to themselves for fear of appearing weak.
According to the researchers, men are less likely than women to seek professional help for depression.
Brodsky said it’s not easy for men to admit to symptoms of clinical depression or to speak in terms of postpartum depression.
“In some ways, it may be easier for men to talk about depression because some male celebrities have been willing to discuss similar struggles. For example, the pop star Justin Bieber recently has talked about his struggles with depression and seeking treatment,” Brodsky added.
Shapiro said that getting men to talk about the condition is the first step.
“When you’re in a place of postpartum depression, you’re not seeing the light. Everything is negative,” he said. “Moving out of that realm is important for you and your family. Not just for the parents, but for the kids. That’s the biggest motivator. To help your family. If you see changes that are more than usual stress, something is wrong and it’s better to have a conversation.”
Both men and women can develop depression after the birth of a baby.
Brodsky noted, though, that the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines “depression with peripartum onset” as having to occur within four weeks before or after the person gives birth.
“As a result, that diagnosis is limited to women,” he said.
According to Brodsky, signs of major depression in men include sleep and appetite changes, decreased interested in enjoyable activities, trouble concentrating, and low energy.
It might also include feelings of sadness, guilt, and thoughts of self-harm.
“If you have more than four of these symptoms on most days for two weeks or more, you may be depressed,” said Brodsky.
Brodsky said it’s helpful if new fathers have someone they can confide in, whether that’s the mother of their child, a friend, relative, or a coworker.
“New fathers can also take advantage of the baby’s checkups to talk with their child’s pediatrician about feeling overwhelmed. For new fathers who are feeling more desperate or in urgent need of help, support is available through employee assistance programs at many workplaces or national hotlines such as 1-800-273-TALK,” said Brodsky.
Without treatment, things can escalate.
“When there’s complete neglect of our own health and safety, and thoughts of self-harm, we can’t take care of ourselves and this can reflect on the kids,” said Shapiro.
Men should seek treatment for postpartum depression just as they would for a physical problem, said Shapiro.
“I always give the example that you use medicine when you have a headache or infection. It’s the same thing when the brain has a chemical imbalance we can treat with medicine,” he continued.
“We need a bridge to talking with someone to align thoughts and feelings. If there’s a chemical reaction inside the brain making this harder to treat, then we need to do both, in some cases, to improve the health of the entire family,” said Shapiro.
Shapiro suggests that pediatricians should screen for general depression in the first months when they see parents.
“Many see their pediatrician more often than they do their own doctors. Pediatricians need to be alert. We need to have objective screening like we ask moms to answer, be open for it, knowing if someone has a high score, what to do with it. Here we do have a psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, but it depends where you are. Just looking for and being conscious that something could be wrong is important for everybody,” he said.
“There are a lot of stigmas, but treating postpartum depression makes a huge difference,” said Shapiro.