Over the years, more and more women have started opening up about their lives with postpartum depression. It’s a severe, long-lasting condition that begins a few days after childbirth.
Celebrities like Hayden Panettiere and Brooke Shields have opened up to the public about struggling with postpartum depression, while hit ABC drama “Nashville” made the mental illness part of its storyline through Panettiere’s character, Juliette.
But while postpartum depression is widely considered to affect mothers, recent research has shown that more and more new fathers are also experiencing the condition.
A 2010 meta-analysis by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 10 percent of fathers experience prenatal and postpartum depression, with depressive symptoms increasing within the first six months after childbirth. In the U.K., research conducted by the National Childbirth Trust found that 38 percent of new fathers are worried about their mental well-being during the first few months after their baby’s born.
If you’re a dad-to-be who’s concerned about postnatal depression or a new father who wants to learn more about the condition, we’ve put together a guide to the causes, symptoms, effects, and how you can find help.
Like in moms, there are many factors that contribute to postpartum depression in dads. Doctors have noted the following as the most common.
- poor or lack of sleep
- past history of severe depression
- family history of mental illness
- established personality traits
- lack of emotional and social support
- societal stigma of mental illness
- increased workload at home
- dissatisfaction with relationship
- changes in relationship and lifestyle
- loss, grief, and other stressful life events
- difficulty adjusting to fatherhood
- change in family dynamics
- financial stress and problems
- hormone changes
- having other children
- partner experiencing prenatal and postnatal depression
The age and socioeconomic status of new dads can also contribute to parental postnatal depression. According to the National Childbirth Trust, younger fathers and fathers with low incomes are more vulnerable to depression and anxiety.
While new dads will experience postnatal depression differently, most of symptoms are similar across the board and mirror those experienced by new moms. Signs of parental postnatal depression typically include:
- feeling despondent or very low
- feeling guilty about not loving your new baby enough or that you’re not a good father
- being aggressive toward or indifferent to your partner and/or new baby
- feeling worthless, ashamed, hopeless, guilty, or inadequate
- feeling fatigue or loss of energy
- unusual anger and irritability
- loss of interest and pleasure in activities you enjoyed
- excessive crying or wanting to cry a lot
- feeling inadequate or unable to cope
- difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- loss of appetite or overeating
- thinking about harming themselves or the baby
- having irrational or obsessive thoughts, such as fears about baby’s health or well-being
- physical pains such as headaches or sore body
- withdrawing from friends and family
- experiencing panic attacks
- difficulty concentrating, thinking clearly, or making decisions
- thoughts of death or suicide
- increased use of alcohol or drugs
A father’s relationship with their baby, partner, older children, family, and friends can suffer because of postnatal depression. If proper help and support isn’t found and given, fathers can lose their connection to their loved ones and risk not growing a strong bond with their new child.
And dads play a vital role in their kids’ lives. Research has shown that involved fathers help strengthen their children’s emotional and mental well-being, as well as positively impact their academic performance. But for fathers living with postnatal depression, the opposite can be true.
A 2014 longitudinal study from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that depressive symptoms increased for fathers during 0 to 5 years old. This is widely considered to be the key development years for children. Multiple studies suggest that parental postnatal depression can cause fathers to take less of an active role during this time, like refusing to read to them or not teaching them language skills.
Since parent-infant interaction is weakened, kids with chronically depressed fathers are more likely to have social, emotional, and cognitive issues, which can begin as early as 3 years old.
Other, often cited negative outcomes resulting from parental postnatal depression include increased parental conflict, insecure attachment, decreased parental support, and estrangement between father and child.
Seek Professional Help
Postnatal depression can be a scary experience, especially for a new father who may not understand what he’s going through or doesn’t know how to cope. Speaking with a therapist about your emotions and thoughts can help you develop techniques to manage your depression.
If talk therapy alone isn’t working, also consider medication.
Find Someone to Talk To
If you don’t feel comfortable speaking with a therapist, find a loved one you can lean on. It’s important to talk with someone about your postnatal depression so that your feelings don’t boil up inside. Releasing your feelings of anxiety, sadness, and anger to someone you trust can help you feel much better.
Spend Time with Your Baby
While postnatal depression may make it hard to interact with your new baby, taking the time to show them love and affection — either by playing with them, changing them, or bathing them — can offset feelings of inadequacy or indifference.
Exercise and Engage in Activities
Exercise can reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. But you don’t have to establish an intense exercise routine. Even 30 minutes of cardio three times a week can have profound effects on your well-being.
You can also apply this rule to social activities, whether it’s having coffee with a friend for an hour or keeping up your stamp collecting hobby. Engaging in activities that interest you can boost your energy.
Find Support Online
Connect with like-minded dads through online forums and support groups. Sites like PostpartumMen.com can help you meet fathers who are experiencing postnatal depression or have gone through it and can offer advice.
Online groups are also a great resource when you feel the people around you aren’t listening to your needs.
It’s important that you give the new father in your life support and love. Avoid being judgmental or blaming the dad for his depression. Encourage them to seek professional help and connect with other fathers who may be going through postnatal depression as well. Reassuring them that they can get better without minimizing their experience will go a long way.