When you hear the term “postpartum depression,” you probably think of new moms. Also dubbed “the baby blues,” postpartum depression (PPD) is most common among women, who may have difficulty managing their emotions and moods, thanks to the changes in their bodies and lifestyle after having a child.
However, new research indicates that new dads, especially younger dads, can also experience postpartum depression after the arrival of a child. According toresearch published in the journal Pediatricsand conducted by scientists at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, while all men are susceptible to postpartum depression, those men who become fathers around age 25 are more likely to experience symptoms than men who have children later in life.
The prevalence of PPD among younger dads is one of the findings of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. In this study, the researchers tracked more than 10,000 men for 20 years, monitoring their mental health and symptoms of depression. Among the study participants, 68 percent of those who became fathers for the first time around age 25 experienced symptoms of postpartum depression. While these men experienced the classic symptoms of depression, including sadness, fatigue, loss of interest and pleasure in activities and feelings of guilt or worthlessness, they also demonstrated symptoms that are unique to men, including irritability or anger, impulsiveness, substance abuse, isolation from friends and family, excessive working and even violence.
Postpartum depression in fathers is important because, as researchers note, the behaviors driven by paternal depression can be detrimental to young children in the first years of life. More specifically, depressed fathers are more likely to withdraw from their children (and their partners), which hinders effective attachment with the child, and are more likely to neglect their kids or use corporal punishment. These behaviors have long-term effects on the mental and emotional well-being of the child.
Why Paternal Post-Partum Depression Occurs
When mothers become depressed post-baby, it’s usually easily explained by hormones as well as the significant lifestyle changes that come with having a new baby. However, what many people fail to realize is that men experience similar changes to their bodies and lifestyle during the birth of their children — and therefore can have the same depression symptoms.
Research has shown, for example, that men’s hormone levels change after the birth of their children; studies show that testosterone levels decrease while estrogen increases post-birth. No one can fully explain this phenomenon, but it does occur and can severely affect a man’s emotional state. Sleep deprivation, changes in routine, anxiety about caring for a child — including the stress that comes with the economic aspects of having a family — can all contribute to depression.
Some experts also point out that women may play a role in triggering depression symptoms, by ignoring or belittling their partners’ feelings. For example, women may feel that men have no reason to be depressed, as they did not experience the physical aspects of pregnancy or they aren’t bearing most of the burden of caring for the child. As a result, men develop feelings of low self-worth, guilt or shame.
Identifying and Treating Postpartum Depression in Men
The first step to identifying and treating postpartum depression in men is acknowledging that it is real. Men who feel that they are having trouble or are overwhelmed by the responsibility and life changes that their new child has brought are encouraged to talk with their doctors. In many cases, taking prescription medications like Prozac can help manage symptoms and get new dads back on track.
Other strategies for managing postpartum depression include:
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise, a healthy diet and limiting alcohol use can significantly improve mood, energy levels and overall well-being.
Get enough sleep. Sleep is often a luxury to new parents, but it is vitally important for maintaining mental clarity and avoiding the fatigue that can worsen depression. Men should work with their partners to develop sleep plans that allow everyone to get adequate rest.
Ask for help. Friends and family are often more than willing to help new parents while they adjust to the changes that having a child brings. When someone offers help, accept it, even if it’s just watching the baby for a few hours while mom and dad take a much-needed nap. Having a support system in place can help prevent the symptoms of depression from taking over.
Stay involved with the baby. It might feel difficult at times, but one of the best ways to avoid depression is to stay involved with the baby. Take turns changing diapers or feeding, play with the baby and spend as much time together as possible. You’ll develop a stronger bond with your child while also improving your mental health.
Don’t neglect your partner. One cause for paternal postpartum depression is the change in the relationship with the baby’s mother. Take time for the two of you, even if it’s just takeout on the couch after the baby goes to bed. Stay connected with each other apart from the child.
Postpartum depression among fathers is real, but it doesn’t have to permanently damage a relationship with a child or a spouse. Men are encouraged to acknowledge their symptoms and get help when necessary, for the well-being of both themselves and their families.