postpartum depression

Postpartum Depression Affects Fathers, Too

Depression is a serious mental illness that affects how a person feels, thinks, and acts. People with depression can experience feelings of persistent sadness, numbness, irritability, or hopelessness. 

Some people are more prone to depressive episodes than others, based on genetic factors. But this disease does not discriminate: anyone can become depressed, especially during or following a stressful, overwhelming, or traumatic season of life. Enter: becoming a parent, one of life’s most rewarding yet challenging life changes. 

Postpartum Depression in Fathers

Postpartum depression occurs in the year following childbirth – for any new parent. While changing hormone levels, body image adjustments and lack of sleep are often cited as causes of maternal postpartum depression, this does not mean that the disease affects birthing mothers alone. 

In the first year of parenthood, fathers are also in the thick of sleep deprivation, heightened work and home pressures, and identity shifts. Research has shown that fathers experience hormonal changes after childbirth as well, which can leave some men prone to depressive episodes. It’s estimated that one in ten dads experience postpartum depression, with the highest rates occurring 3-6 months after birth. 

Risk Factors of PPPD

Some men are more prone to paternal postpartum depression (PPPD) than others. Those who experience the following may be at a higher risk for developing symptoms:

  • Lack of community support or positive male role models
  • Difficult or delayed attachment with the baby
  • Marital stressors, like lack of one-on-one time and sex
  • Financial and work stressors
  • Low testosterone
  • Being a partner to someone with depression

All parents should be routinely screened for symptoms of postpartum depression. Knowing one’s individual risk factors can help parents understand the importance of involving their healthcare provider in identifying symptoms.

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression in Fathers

While there isn’t yet a formal diagnostic criteria for PPPD, experts generally recognize that it can begin anytime after the first 2-3 weeks postpartum and up until the baby’s first birthday. Symptoms can include:

  • Irritability
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of interest in activities that usually bring pleasure
  • Anger and rage
  • Impulsivity

When these symptoms persist longer than 2 weeks, it’s time to reach out for help. Dads with depression are more likely to engage in risky behaviors like substance abuse or gambling and are more likely to commit domestic abuse. Left untreated, depression can last for months or years. 

Effects of Postpartum Depression

A father in the throes of depression is more likely to behave and speak in ways that negatively impact himself and his family members. Depressed fathers may feel less inclined to engage and play with their children, and they may develop strained relationships with their partners and friends.

Some research suggests that children of depressed parents may be more prone to developmental delays or emotional problems later in life. This risk can be lessened if the child’s other parent is nurturing and involved, but it’s important to keep in mind those living with a depressed partner are more likely to experience the disease themselves. Depression in an individual affects the whole household. 

Treatment and Recovery

Depression is treatable. When the disease is caught early after symptoms present, the road to recovery can be quicker and smoother. Treating depression involves an individual approach that may include talk therapy, group counseling, and/or medications. 

If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or are concerned that someone you love may be, reach out to your doctor right away. The nature of this mental illness is that it makes the sufferer feel there is no hope for change. However, a rewarding and fulfilling life after depression is certainly possible with proper treatment. 

Don’t delay seeking help. Untreated depression can worsen and lead to self-harming behaviors, substance abuse or suicidal thoughts. 

It’s Time to End the Stigma

In a culture that places value on the cuteness of the baby above the well-being of her parents, it’s no surprise that all parents – regardless of whether they physically gave birth – are susceptible to postpartum depression. 

Fathers experience major stressors, identity changes, and even hormonal shifts that put them at risk for developing depression in the year after childbirth. Postpartum depression in fathers can completely alter the way a man experiences fatherhood and have negative impacts on his family as well. 

Thankfully, recovery is possible for the one in ten fathers who experience postpartum depression. Spreading awareness helps all parents get the help they need and deserve to lead fulfilling, mentally well lives. 

Resources

Postpartum Support International – Resources for Dads

Helpline: 1-800-944-4773

Call this helpline to leave a message for a trained volunteer who will return your call during business hours to listen, connect you with resources, and offer hope.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Helpline: 1-800-622-HELP (4357)

Call this helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for referral services and treatment options for mental illness and substance abuse disorders.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

This National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 for free, confidential support for people in crisis. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, this lifeline is available to provide guidance, referrals and hope for recovery.

Nightingale Night Nurses