After childbirth, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of postpartum depression. Sadness, mood swings, guilt, exhaustion, anxiety, stress, and insomnia are a few, and the side effects can make what should be a joyous occasion ⏤ welcoming a new member into the family ⏤ feel downright unbearable. And it doesn’t just affect new mothers. Each year, there are more than three million diagnosed cases of postpartum depression in the United States and some of those are fathers. It’s much more common than many realize.
In fact, a large study was published in 2010 in the Journal of the American Medical Association that shed a bright light on the issue of male postpartum depression. It was a meta-analysis of 46 other studies, and it found that one in seven dads (14 percent) in the U.S. becomes depressed after his child is born. That’s 1,500 dads per day afflicted with depression. Not only that but between three and six months after birth, the risk for dads climbs to 1 in 4.
As is often the case with new mothers, postpartum depression is not easy to spot in fathers. The stereotypical depiction of someone struggling with depression ⏤ constant sadness and crying ⏤ doesn’t apply. “It can actually look like irritability and anger, working constantly, drinking or gambling too much, or other impulsive behavior,” says Dr. Will Courtenay, Coordinator with Postpartum Support International. “These are some of the ways men experience and cope with depression differently than women.”
That’s not to say new fathers aren’t immune from the classic symptoms of postpartum depression. A sad mood, loss of pleasure in hobbies or sex, a sense of worthlessness, and thoughts of suicide can all be signs of postpartum depression in men, as well. “But we have to remember that men are more likely than women to try to hide their depression, so looking out for any sign of something unusual or out of character is critical,” says Courtenay, who’s also an advisory board member for The Center for Men and Young Men at McLean Hospital at Harvard Medical School.
Hiding symptoms of depression, however, is the worst thing a new dad can do. It’s vital that they consult a mental health professional and get treatment for their depression, be it traditional one-on-one sessions with a licensed psychologist or alternative therapy. Research shows that talk therapy is effective in treating depression, as is combining talk therapy with proper medication. “The most important thing is that a man gets help,” Courtenay says. “The biggest problem with men’s postpartum depression is not the depression, but the fact that too many men try to go it alone and go untreated.”
After consulting a mental health professional, there are other ways to get back on the road to happiness. The first step? Getting more (and better) sleep. An inadequate amount of sleep alone can lead to depression if experienced on a prolonged basis. In fact, lack of sleep is believed to be the biggest culprit in triggering postpartum depression.
“When normal, healthy adults are deprived of good sleep for one month they begin to develop clinical signs of depression,” explains Courtenay. “Sleep deprivation results in neurochemical changes in the brain. That, along with the hormonal changes that occur, can combine to create the perfect storm that we see peak in the three- to six- month period. The causes of postpartum depression may not be that different for women and men after all.”
In addition to getting little sleep, other causes can also increase a man’s risk of suffering from postpartum depression, Courtenay says, including “low testosterone levels, a history of depression, a rocky relationship with his partner, and economic problems or stress.” Half of all men whose partners have postpartum depression are depressed themselves.
A lack of support can also increase a man’s risk. Oftentimes, men have fewer friendships than women. For the average guy, his wife is his primary source of support. It’s not surprising that one in three new dads feels shut out from the relationship between his partner and baby. According to Courtenay, over half of new dads report that they feel like their spouses or partners don’t love them as much as they did before they had a baby.
And feeling like there’s no one in your corner can then spiral into feeling overwhelmed and underprepared, which then also increases the risk of postpartum depression. “We’re expecting fathers to be more involved in parenting than ever before, but most dads report being unprepared for fatherhood,” Courtenay says. “So while most dads want to be involved, they don’t really know what that looks like. That leaves new dads uncertain about what to do. That uncertainty can quickly lead to anxiety which often leads to depression.”
Raising a new baby is never easy, but it doesn’t have come with the emotional toll associated with Postpartum Depression. The best way to prevent postpartum depression in men is to mitigate the risks by addressing what we know are potential causes before they occur. Get good sleep, eliminate caffeine if necessary, and, if you have a history of depression, see a mental health professional before the baby is born. Seeing a couples counselor prior to birth if your partner suffers from depression, setting up a budget if money is a source of stress, and increasing your support network by strengthening relationships with loved ones and friends can all be helpful as well.
“The important thing to remember is that all of the negative consequences associated with Postpartum Depression are avoidable,” Courtenay says. “Although it’s a very serious ⏤ and sometimes life-threatening ⏤ condition, with proper treatment and support, men can fully recover.”
Postpartum Depression in Men: A Cheat Sheet
- 1 in 7 dads in the U.S. becomes depressed after his child is born.
- 1,500 dads in the U.S. become depressed each day.
- Lack of sleep is the most common cause of depression.
- Symptoms of men’s postpartum depression can be different than those in women, and can include irritability and anger, working constantly, drinking or gambling too much, or other impulsive behavior.
- The only way to cure postpartum depression is with treatment.