Postpartum depression is surprisingly common in dads, according to new research.
There’s been a lot of focus recently – and quite rightly – about postnatal depression in new mums. There can be considerable stigma attached to admitting that the weeks and months after childbirth are anything other than happy and fulfilling, so a new understanding of maternal depression is clearly welcome.
Researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine analyzed nearly 10,000 pediatric community health center visits by parents of newborns, infants, and toddlers and came to a rather startling conclusion. They found that, while 5% of mothers showed signs of depression, nearly the same number of men – 4.4% – had dads depression too.
Dads depression affects families
Why is this important? Well, it’s clearly important for the dads themselves, who up until now have been forced to face their dark feelings largely alone. But it’s also important for the wellbeing of the entire family. Studies have shown that depression in dads may lead to more emotional and behavioural problems in their children.
As the authors of the new study state: “As with mothers, depression in fathers negatively affects children’s development and behaviour.”
So the problem is real, but what causes it? Dads don’t grow a baby inside them and suffer the potential emotional and physical trauma of childbirth, and nor are they flooded with hormones in the immediate aftermath (or at least not to the same extent as mums).
Nevertheless, caring for a newborn can come as a shock, with dads often facing:
- extra workload at home
- limited sleep
- and added anxiety around finances and work.
- They are also affected by the health and wellbeing of their partners.
The result is that, according to figures from the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), one in three new dads is concerned about his mental health.
Dr Sarah McMullen, Head of Knowledge at the NCT, said: “We recognise the huge impact having a baby can have on dads as well as mums. Perinatal mental health issues can affect men or women so raising awareness of the specific concerns and questions that dads-to-be or new dads have is crucial. Dads sometimes feel uncomfortable about opening up about their feelings but we would encourage them to do so and seek the support they need.”
Dads Matter UK is a charity set up to support dads who are worried about or suffering from Depression, Anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It says men often mask the symptoms of depression and anxiety with alcohol, drugs or gambling, instead of seeking professional advice.
The organisation states: “Depression is a serious and common condition which won’t get better by itself. If you had a broken arm or a deep cut on your foot, you wouldn’t expect that to heal without medical help. It’s the same with mental illness such as depression, you need to get help and the first point of call must be your doctor.”
What dads can do to help themselves
Postpartum anxiety and depression in men is real and can be serious, for both dads and their families. If you are worried about your own mental health, the NCT has some tips:
- Share your feelings with people you trust. This could be your family or friends, a health professional or a counsellor.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.