Postpartum depression isn’t something that usually comes up in conversation when discussing men’s mental health.
It’s generally an issue attributed to women due to hormone imbalance coupled with the major physical and emotional changes that a woman goes through after birth. This is not the case however.
Men can and do experience postpartum depression (as well as postpartum anxiety). Causes include things like lack of sleep, a history of mental illness either in you or you family members, a spouse with postpartum depression, relationship stress, et cetera.
You may recognize most of these things as being characteristic of the time after taking home a newborn. Increased stress and lack of sleep most certainly. Relationship stress and new babies go together like pizza and beer as any guy will undoubtedly tell you. This sets up an environment that can lead directly to paternal postpartum depression.
As many as 10% of new fathers have been found to experience postpartum mental health issues, and it is likely that the correct percentage is much higher as many men are not aware that they can have postpartum depression or do not feel comfortable seeking out help in a misguided effort to remain strong in the eyes of their friends and family members.
It is important to seek help however, as postpartum depression can lead to other worse mental health issues. As well it will most certainly cause increased strain on a marriage and make it more difficult for a new father to bond with his new baby.
Depressive feelings can lead a man to lash out at his spouse or other family members and can impact his ability to work as well as function comfortably in social situations.
If both spouses are suffering from postpartum mental health issues it can lead to a dangerous home environment for all those involved. All of these are things that are already made difficult by the enormous change that comes from bringing a new child into the home.
The symptoms of paternal postpartum depression are different from those that manifest in women.
Women tend to feel sad, lonely, and isolated they may cry a lot or feel like they aren’t good enough or don’t deserve their child. Men however tend to exhibit different symptoms, such as anger, negative thoughts about the baby, increased frustration and irritability, violent tendencies, loss of interest in hobbies, work or sex, fatigue etc.
All these symptoms can be difficult to manage but the one that stands out the most different between women and men are the negative thoughts about the baby.
This can lead men to worry that they might hurt the baby and can also make them afraid to seek help for fear that someone might think they would hurt their child. The important thing to remember is that these things are indicative of an illness and not the way you really feel about your child.
Getting help through therapy, and if needed, medication can help eliminate the symptoms and resolve intrusive and disturbing thoughts.
The most significant factor in whether or not a man develops paternal postpartum disorders seems to be whether or not his spouse is suffering from postpartum depression as well.
While paternal postpartum depression will affect approximately 10% of new fathers, the risk increases to 50% in men whose partners have postpartum depression as well. While women are often screened for postpartum symptoms after birth, usually during a postnatal check up at the doctor or during one of the baby’s many appointments in the first few months of life, this isn’t something done for new dads. Even as paternal postpartum mental health issues become more widely recognized.
It is important therefore to get the word out to men and women about this illness, so men being affected can seek the help and treatment they need.
In addition to paternal postpartum depression another mental illness that presents in men after childbirth is postpartum anxiety. It manifests itself in a number of ways, but most recognizably as obsessive thoughts related to the baby. The father may become convinced there is something wrong with the baby, that they are sick or mentally ill.
They may check on the baby constantly, well beyond how much is necessary for regular active care. It is important to point out that anxious feelings are normal for new parents, there is no handbook on how to care for children that is universal to all babies everywhere.
Postpartum anxiety is more severe and if untreated this disease can also become postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder and can severely interfere with a fathers ability to operate in his normal daily life. Things like refusal to let the mother bathe or feed the baby for fear that she will hurt or drown the baby while doing so. Or waking up repeatedly throughout the night to check on the baby, again far more that normal new parent anxiety or worries.
The most disturbing part of postpartum OCD however is that it can cause disturbing thoughts, much like those in men with postpartum depression. These thoughts can even be about hurting the baby, although the desire is not at all present. The most important thing to remember about postpartum OCD is that not matter how awful these types of thoughts may be parents with this disease are at no risk of acting on them and actually hurting the child. In fact, it is this disconnect between what the parent wants and is feeling and what they are thinking that causes serious distress.
The obvious answer to all these problems is to seek professional medical help from a qualified mental health specialist. That is easier said than done of course.
There is such as stigma surrounding any negative thoughts and feelings when it comes to having a new baby. You may think you shouldn’t be allowed to feel like this because you have been blessed with a healthy child. Thoughts of all the parents in the world who can’t have children cause you to think you are being ungrateful, selfish even for feeling anything but unending joy. Perhaps you’ve experienced a pregnancy loss before the birth of your new baby and feel like you are don’t deserve this child if you are feeling badly now that you have a healthy baby.
People around you may even question what is wrong with you and insist you be happy that your child is healthy when any number of things could’ve gone wrong. And then there is the fact that most people don’t realize that paternal postpartum disorders exist. A new father has a very specific job and that is to support his spouse through the difficult ordeal of childbirth and recovery, validate her feelings and help take care of the newborn.
The reality however is that postpartum disorders are not within anyone’s control, man or woman. There is nothing you can do differently throughout a pregnancy that will guarantee stable mental health at the end. And having a postpartum disorder does not make you a bad person or an ungrateful parent. It doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve your children or can’t take good care of them. All it means is that you need help to get through a difficult time in your life.
To get your family through a difficult time and ensure everyone’s happiness and mental wellbeing. Seeking professional help doesn’t make you weak or an incapable person or parent. In the same way that would put a cast on a broken arm or take painkillers for a migraine, therapy can be like a cast and medication is medication whether it is painkillers or antidepressants. You no more control your brain chemistry that you can control a headache. It’s not a lack of willpower or anything deficient about you, it simply is. It’s a reality that 10% of new fathers deal with on a daily basis and there is no reason to do so alone.