Are you a new dad? Do you experience the symptoms of depression like feeling helpless, hopeless, sad, and scared? You are not alone, because about 10% of new fathers around the world face male postpartum depression between the first trimester of the pregnancy and six months following the child’s birth1. This number increases to 26% between three and six months after the child’s birth1.
Because so many fathers experience postpartum depression, it is an important health condition that you and all expecting dads should be aware of in case you show any of the symptoms. By knowing about the causes, symptoms, and how to treat it, you will be in a better position to recognize it in yourself or your friends and to know what you can do about it.
This article covers the risk of new fathers getting depression; the unique experience of dads with postpartum depression; the warning signs, causes, and symptoms of male postpartum depression; methods to cope with this type of depression; and what family members can do to help.
The Risks of Getting Male Postpartum Depression
According to researchers, between 1,000 and 2,700 new fathers each day in America become depressed2. If you are a new father, the best predictor of you becoming depressed is whether your wife is experiencing depression. Studies show that nearly 50% of dads whose wives have postpartum depression are also depressed1.
Your age when you become a new father also determines whether you will experience depression. If you are between twenty and thirty years old, your chances of becoming depressed increases3.
Mood disorders such as depression among new dads, therefore, is common, and the first step you must take is to admit that you are depressed. If left untreated, depression can cause long-term damage to you, your newborn child, and your whole family. Studies have shown that fathers with depression tend to be less connected with their children, and this can result in social, learning, and emotional issues for the children1.
The Experience of Having Postpartum Depression
Fathers tend to experience depression differently than mothers. This is because our culture expects men to be strong, show less emotion and tough it out. The result is that, when men begin to feel helpless, anxious, or scared, they tend to keep quiet and not ask for help1. This explains why healthcare professionals often misdiagnose or miss depression in a man2.
Rob Sandler was extremely excited once he found out that his wife was pregnant with his son, Asher. He went with his wife to all her ob-gyn appointments and was looking forward to being a hands-on dad. However, soon after Asher’s birth, Rob began feeling helpless and faced overwhelming anxiety. Rob liked being in control of everything and became fearful of the changes in his life because of his newborn son. He became worried that he could no longer spend time with his friends, family, and hobbies. He was involved with caring for Asher, but he sometimes cried uncontrollably and felt guilty about his feelings.
Chris Illuminati experienced severe bouts of depression after his son, Evan, was born. He described the first few months as hell as he frequently had insane thoughts, especially in the early morning. For instance, he wondered, what if he left Evan screaming while he went to bed, or what if he sat in a dark room with Evan and he was the only awake person on Earth?
If you are a new dad, you may remember the excitement you felt when you first laid eyes on your newborn child and thought how beautiful your baby looked. After a few days, you began to have sleepless nights from an infant that cried and needed care constantly. You are a prime candidate for getting depression. Here are some warning signs of depression2:
- You and your wife are arguing more often.
- You are going to work in an exhausted condition.
- You feel pessimistic about everything.
- You feel more moody, desperate, irritable, and afraid.
- You have difficulty falling asleep.
Causes and Symptoms
Many people believe that female postpartum depression is caused mainly by hormonal variations, but researchers have found that a man’s hormones can also fluctuate during his wife’s pregnancy and after his child’s birth1.
It appears that a new dad’s testosterone can decrease while his prolactin, estrogen, and cortisol levels can increase during this period. Scientists believe that hormone variation in fathers happens naturally to ensure that they stay and connect with their children1.
Aside from the biological causes of male postpartum depression, researchers believe that there are social and economic reasons for it as more mothers are joining the workforce while more fathers are staying home to care for the child and tend to the home. Taking care of a child, not having enough sleep, and experiencing hormonal changes create an ideal environment for depression to develop.
The following are some common indications of male postpartum depression1:
- Becoming unusually irritable or impatient
- Distancing yourself from your wife and child
- Behaving recklessly such as drinking too much, gambling, or taking drugs
- Feeling sad or lacking interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Having family members who experienced depression
- Having suicidal thoughts
- Having a wife with depression
Coping with Male Postpartum Depression
If you feel you have three or more of the above symptoms, here are some strategies for dealing with depression1:
- Discuss your depression with your wife and family members – This is a significant step as men tend to keep feelings to themselves. By communicating your problems with your wife, you make it a family issue instead of a personal one, and this will help you feel less isolated.
- Stay physically and mentally healthy – Do anything that will reduce your stress level such as meditation, running, yoga, exercising, and eating healthy, fresh foods.
- Take time out for yourself – Taking care of a young child can be very stressful. Hire a babysitter so that you can spend a little time every week to relax and do activities you enjoy such as reading, bowling, or watching television.
- See a medical professional – See your family doctor and ask for a referral to a mental health professional. Your treatment could include counseling and medication for depression and anxiety.
Your family members can help you recover by encouraging you to talk to them about your experiences and feelings. They can help you immensely by being understanding and supportive with their time and effort.
Male postpartum depression has become a common condition among new fathers due to the social and economic pressures placed on them in caring for their children. Now that you know about this condition, you are in a better position to recognize it in yourself and seek help to prevent harm to you and your loved ones.
Have you ever had male postpartum depression? Did you find it hard to talk about it with your wife and family? What coping strategies did you use to deal with it? Let me know in the comments.