When it comes to postnatal depression, we’ve made some fantastic strides in appreciating a mum’s psychological well-being. It’s now recognised by both doctors and the general public alike, and treatment is becoming increasingly available. Knowing just how many women suffer after childbirth, it’s reassuring to know society is making changes for the better in this regard.
Dads, however, are still misunderstood and largely ignored. Plenty of people don’t really think it’s a “thing” – not in the same way it is for mums, anyway. But research has shown that men experience postnatal depression in a way that’s more similar than previously understood. And they’re just as likely to need mental health resources.
What Leads to Postnatal Depression (PND)?
Research suggests there are several factors that may contribute to postnatal depression (PND). But remember: there is no single trigger, nor should you think that because “yours” isn’t on the list, you don’t have it.
Perhaps a very common one is having financial problems. Having a child is a beautiful experience, and nothing should detract from that, but the reality is, money is a huge concern for many of us. For some, the added stress can spiral and result in PND.
Many dads also worry about fatherhood. It’s okay to admit it: having a child can be downright scary. You wonder whether you’re going to be a good dad, whether you will be able to handle the extra responsibilities, and the lack of sleep can affect your well-being.
Partners often suffer together. If we go by the statistics, between 24-50% of fathers whose partners are suffering from PND will fall in the same boat. But the thing is, it often goes completely undiagnosed.
Perhaps a little surprisingly, age is a risk factor. Dads who are under the age of 25 have been shown to be more likely to develop postnatal depression.
What Are the Symptoms?
When it comes to symptoms, there are many overlaps with the common ones we see in women who are suffering from PND: inconsistent moods, anxiety, excessive worrying, depression, and sometimes psychosis.
PND in dads can present in all sorts of different ways. For example, withdrawing from family and friends is worryingly common. Sometimes there is an evident ‘disconnect’ that occurs from the rest of the world.
Frustration, cynicism, irritability, and a general sense of anger is also frequent. This can be as a result of specific things happening in life, but also without cause. Insomnia coupled with alcohol/drug use is also a common symptom.
Unfortunately, postnatal depression is also associated in marital conflict, sometimes even partner violence, and negative parenting behaviours. It is so important
to treat PND, and for dads not to suppress their emotions.
What Can We Do About PND?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to postnatal depression (PND). But there are several ways in which symptoms can be mitigated:
Talking therapy. This is one of the most effective ways in which dads can seek help if they’re suffering from PND. Talking therapy is also known as counselling. For many dads, it is just as or more effective compared to medications.
One of the reasons is that we often find it easier to talk to strangers than our friends or relatives. In addition, you will be given help by a professional, whether a therapist or a trained counsellor. You won’t find judgment, and you can cry, think, shout, or talk. It gives you the chance to view your experience from a different angle, talking to someone who is respectful of your journey and opinions.
Exercise and diet. It’s not the whole solution, as it’s never quite that simple, but building a healthy exercise and diet routine can go a long way in combating PND. Researchers from Australia recently found that exercise can have an antidepressant effect. Getting fresh air is also an important component.
Having a healthy diet will also give you the nutrients your body needs. And when you’re struggling with sleep and added responsibility, it’s important your body gets the right foods. Consider bulk cooking so that you minimise spent in the kitchen, without having to grab a quick snack.
It’s okay to suffer from PND. Many of the problems surrounding postnatal depression in men is that it’s often completely ignored. People don’t often know it exists, or they’re embarrassed. Having a baby is supposed to be a happy time, they think, or dads often feel they are meant to “be there” for their partner and child; guilt is a common feeling.
But that’s not the way dads should look at it. It’s okay to suffer. It’s normal, and it doesn’t mean you love your family any less. Or that you’re somehow a lesser father. If you are concerned you are suffering from PND, talk to your loved ones and seek treatment.
Finally, Just How Common Is Postnatal Depression in Dads?
Some people assume that postnatal depression is common in women, but that it rarely occurs in men. This is not the case. Whilst early studies have suggested the figure sits at an upper level of 10%, recent work is suggesting an entirely different picture. Swedish researchers have found that up to 28% of men may suffer from PND.
But there’s one finding that may be even more concerning: less than a fifth of men seek treatment or help. Because dads don’t often know there is such a thing, or they may simply think that society wouldn’t accept it.
This is why it’s crucial that we work to increase awareness of postnatal depression in men. And to encourage people to seek treatment, no matter how small they think the problem is. We need to foster a culture of kindness, helping families feel that PND is nothing to be ashamed of, that it’s very much a common occurrence, and that there are effective treatment options worth pursuing.