Today is International Father’s Mental Health Day, a day where we’re encouraged to think about – and raise awareness of – dads’ mental health around the world. Postpartum depression in mothers is a well-documented condition affecting new mums, so it comes as a surprise that the paternal equivalent – paternal postpartum depression – isn’t really something we hear spoken about all too often.
It’s even more of a surprise considering one in ten men around the world experience the condition – not exactly as rare a condition as you might think.
So, in the spirit of International Father’s Mental Health Day, read on to find out a bit more about this condition that many dads over the world suffer with – but not that many end up speaking out about.
What actually is paternal postpartum depression?
Paternal postpartum depression is, as the name suggests, very similar to the condition a lot of new mums suffer from within the first year or so after having a child. In fact, it’s more common in dads if their partner is suffering from maternal postpartum depression, too.
It’s totally normal to feel a bit more emotional after welcoming a little one into the world – after all, it’s quite a seismic event for even the most stoic of people to experience. So it’s really nothing to worry about if new parents find themselves a little bit weepy, or feeling a bit more delicate emotionally than they had done before. This is actually so common that it’s often referred to as the ‘baby blues’.
If this unusual level of emotions – particularly feeling low, feeling anxious or feeling overly delicate and weepy – persists for more than a month or so, and especially if these feelings become so overwhelming that they impact a parent’s ability to look after themselves in their everyday life or – more importantly still – their ability to look after their child, this could well be postnatal depression.
What causes paternal postpartum depression?
With mums, hormonal changes are one of the most common causes for the condition – having gone through the nine-month experience of pregnancy and all of the hormonal changes that come with it, many mums find the postnatal period of adjustment, along with the huge hormonal changes they’ve experienced throughout pregnancy, can cause them distress and significant changes in mood.
It’s the same with dads – hormones such as testosterone, oestrogen, cortisol and more can also change in new fathers in the first period of time after their child is born. These changes can actually occur due to the hormonal changes the mum is experiencing.
There are also quite clear environmental factors after becoming a dad that can throw so many people into a depressive period. Caring for a baby causes a significant lack of sleep, a whole new set of money worries, massive changes in lifestyle and potentially more arguments with a partner – these factors are all common to pretty much every set of new parents, so it’s no surprise that in combination some people may find them overwhelming.
Couple these more superficial changes with the potential for real financial strain or relationship strain to set in, coupled with the sleep deprivation, and there are plenty of external factors – as well as internal hormonal changes – which can result in the condition.
Signs and symptoms to look out for
Luckily, there are a lot of warnings signs of paternal postpartum depression you can look out for in your partner, or any friends who have just become dads. An important statistic to bear in mind is that the condition occurs more frequently 3-6 months after the birth of a child, rather than in the months immediately after becoming a new dad.
The other signs you can look out for are very similar to those you might see in a new mum suffering from postnatal depression.
These could include – but aren’t limited to:
- Persistent feelings of sadness and low mood
- Feeling fatigued and lacking energy the majority of the time
- Feelings of guilt, hopelessness and self-blame
- Unusually irritable and quick to anger (this can increase the aforementioned guilt)
- Loss of appetite or increased appetite (comfort eating)
- Experiencing an overwhelming amount of anxiety or dread
- Feeling like you want to cry a lot of the time
- Irrational and disturbing thoughts – sometimes about your baby
- Sleep issues – whether they’re with falling, or staying, asleep
- Nightmares when you do fall asleep
- Panic and anxiety attacks
- Obsessive thoughts about your baby’s health or your own health
- Loss of interest in things that used to bring you joy
How is paternal postpartum depression treated?
There are a number of ways to treat dads who are suffering from the condition, helping them get back to their best and also freeing them to enjoy all of the amazing things about being a new dad.
The sooner you speak to a doctor if you think you might be struggling, the better. They might prescribe you with antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to help with your mood. Depending on your symptoms they could also prescribe you mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety drugs or antipsychotics to help ease your symptoms.
Talking to loved ones
It can be a strange, scary and isolating experience being diagnosed with paternal postpartum depression – or going through it without being diagnosed. It won’t instantly cure all of your symptoms, but opening up to friends and family about how you’re feeling will help you to take some of the emotional load off, and you’ll feel at least a little bit better for it. You might be afraid to begin the conversation, but there are lots of tips you can use to help you start talking about your mental health if you’ve not broached the topic before.
There are a lot of smaller things you can do pretty easily to make yourself feel better – they might not completely ‘cure’ you, but taking small steps can help you to cope with depression of any form. You should try regular exercise, staying away from drinking too much or using drugs, prioritising your sleep and making sure you communicate with your partner throughout the experience.
Therapy for paternal postpartum depression gives you a safe space to express how you feel, to vent, and to let out everything that is weighing you down and causing your low mood – all without judgment or any shame.
Your therapist will be able to help you through your condition using the techniques best suited to you. Talking therapies like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) in particular can be really helpful for the condition.
If you’ve not done it before, seeking help from a therapist can be a little daunting the first time around – but it can be a life-changing experience that will help you and your new family enormously in the long run. Find out more about how you can get started with My Online Therapy.