Postpartum Depression & Anxiety: It's Not Just About Moms
An average of just over 10% of all new fathers will experience depression before or after the birth of their infant. Find out more about the symptoms and how therapy can help.
While the public may be more familiar with the effects of postpartum depression on mothers, many are not aware that fathers are also susceptible to becoming depressed during the postpartum period.
What is paternal postnatal depression (PPD)?
PPD occurs when a father experiences the onset of an episode of depression in the first 12 months following the birth of an infant.
How common is PPD? Estimates vary, but there is reason to believe that about 10.4% of new fathers experience depression sometime between the first trimester of their spouse or partner’s pregnancy, the child’s first birthday. A quarter of all men who experience PPD will do so within 3- 6 months following the birth of their child. In comparison, an estimated 5.3% of all adult men in the United States will experience an episode of depression each year. There are a number of risk factors that might place a father at higher-risk of experiencing PPD, including:
Having a partner who has postpartum depression (increases risk of PPD in men by 50%);
A history of depression or other mental illness;
Conflict in relationship with spouse or partner, in-laws, or other family members;
Anxiety about fatherhood;
Lack of sleep;
Financial stress; and
Anxiety about being excluded from relationship between your partner and the baby.
How is PPD different from how mothers experience postpartum depression?
Symptoms of Depression in Men
Expressed as anger, irritability, or aggression
Exhaustion- loss of interest in relationships, work, or hobbies
Withdrawal/detachment from significant relationships
More likely to use drugs and alcohol to cope
Symptoms of Depression in Women
Tendency to ruminate
May cry for no apparent reason
More likely to verbalize feelings of sadness
There is some suggestion that the screening tools most commonly used to identify symptoms of postpartum depression in new mothers do not adequately measure the most common symptoms of PPD in fathers.
What are the symptoms of PPD?
The symptoms of PPD are very similar to the symptoms of depression expressed by adult males who have not experienced the birth of a child within the past 12 months, and they include:
Irritability and conflict in relationships with others
Increased use of drugs/alcohol
Use of violence
Increased risky/ self-destructive behavior (reckless driving, sexual promiscuity)
Increase in physical complaints (headaches, indigestion, pain, etc.)
Recurring thoughts of death/suicide
Feeling isolated from spouse/partner, friends, or family members
Increased focus on work productivity
Changes in weight
Loss of interest in sex/ sexual dysfunction
Why don’t more men get help for PPD?
While all of the symptoms of PPD are treatable, healthcare providers may not be aware of PPD, and men may be reluctant to seek help. Among the barriers to men seeking treatment for PPD, include:
Not having access to educational resources on PPD;
Feeling pressure to live-up to gender stereotypes which promote the idea that men who express their feelings are “weak;”
Reluctance to disclose their feelings to their spouse/partner;
Feeling overwhelmed, fatigued, and helpless due to the demands of caring for the needs of an infant;
Struggling with feelings of resentment towards their infant, and fighting the urge to harm the infant or themselves; and
Feeling ignored/overlooked by their spouse or partner and healthcare providers.
What are the consequences of men not seeking treatment for PPD?
Men who do not seek treatment for PPD my experience conflict in their relationship with their spouse or partner. Their children can be impacted by their untreated PPD as well. Some potential negative outcomes for children whose parents experience depression in the postpartum period include:
Cognitive or language delays;
Insecure or disorganized attachment;
Behavioral problems; and
Lower academic achievement.
On a personal level, untreated, severe depression, can increase the risk of death by suicide.
What treatment is available for PPD?
Depression, including PPD, is 100% treatable. There are multiple treatment options available to help fathers recover from PPD, including psychotherapy (talk therapy) for individuals, as well as group therapy, medication, and complementary and alternative treatments. Individuals with more severe PPD symptoms might benefit from an inpatient hospital stay, or intensive outpatient treatment. You should consult with a licensed mental health professional to determine which treatment option is most appropriate for you, based on your personal and family history with depression or other mood disorders, and the severity and duration of the symptoms for your current episode of depression.
If you, or someone you know, have symptoms of PPD, contact The Waverly Center for Psychotherapy to discuss scheduling an appointment for help.