We are all used to think about women in relation to postpartum depression, but it turns out that this phenomenon is also prevalent among men. In the last decade, a series of studies has shown that 1 out of 10 dads to newborns struggle with signs of distress and anxiety that directly relate to what is referred to as Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND).
One of these most important studies was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in May 2010. It integrated data from 43 smaller studies that encompassed a total of 28,000 men from the United States, Canada, Australia, Portugal, Spain, Britain, Ireland, Holland, Sweden and China. Results left no room for error: 10% of the fathers suffer from after birth depression compared to 4.8% of the general population of men who suffer from depression regardless of pregnancy and childbirth.
It was also found that American dads are at higher risk of facing depression compared to dads from other countries (14.1% and 8.2% respectively). Researchers could establish a link between the mothers and fathers’ tendency for postpartum depression. Husbands to depressed wives are more likely to become depressed as well. Lastly, the study showed that dads are more emotionally vulnerable from the third to the sixth month after delivery.
What causes father postpartum depression
Life after birth changes rapidly and radically and not all men are mentally equipped to handle these changes. Many male patients complain about loss of attention they were used to get from their wives. There is a new player in the family and the competition is fierce. In many cases, the father finds himself outside the powerful dyad created between the mother and the baby.
Marriage life is not what it used to be. Husband a wife intimacy vanishes almost completely and is replaced by everyday conflicts that come with the demanding routine of taking care of a newborn.
Added to all of that are stress at work, lack of sleeping hours, concerns about taking care of a new baby, which fathers also have, and you will get the psychological state of mind that may well lead to anxiety and depression.
As mentioned above, the mother’s mood has a direct effect on the father. A study published in PubMed in 2000 checked 157 couples in various stages of pregnancy and on the weeks following birth. It was found that 6 weeks after delivery, husbands to wives who suffered from postpartum depression were 2.5 times more likely to suffer from depression as well compared to husbands whose wives showed no signs of depression.
Endocrinological factors play a significant role in paternal postnatal depression. Research conducted in the University of South California in 2017 demonstrated that a drop in testosterone levels leads to depression among new fathers. The reason for that is yet unknown. Interesting enough, in women, it is the opposite: high levels of testosterone may increase the likelihood of suffering from depression.
Paternal depression is also associated with lower levels of the hormone estrogen. Men’s estrogen levels start to rise in the course of the last month before birth and return to normal during the early postpartum period. Research has shown that fathers who tend to be more involved in caring for the new baby have higher estrogen levels in their bodies and are, therefore, less susceptible to depression.
Finally, psychiatrists know today that lower levels of Cortisol (a hormone the body produces in stressful situations) in fathers are associated with difficulties in attaching to the baby and bad mood.
Paternal postnatal depression is manifested in a variety of symptoms, some of which include the following:
- Anxiety – 10% of new fathers experience increased symptoms of postpartum anxiety that may translate into panic attacks especially in connection to the baby’s well-being.
- Feeling of Hopelessness and continual pessimism about the future.
- Lack of energy and chronic tiredness.
- Difficulty sleeping at night
- Severe Stress – postnatal mental stress rises to the surface in everyday situations that revolve around caring for the bay – feeding, crying, waking up at night, etc. In extreme cases, extreme stress may result in verbal and physical violent behaviors toward the spouse.
- OCD – obsessive Compulsive Symptoms that may include obsessive thought about the baby’s health like fear of making wrong decisions that can harm him or anxious thoughts about his death while asleep (Crib Death Syndrome).
Some fathers repeatedly engage in compulsive rituals, such as throwing or hiding any object that may cause harm to the baby, avoiding changing diapers for fear of sexual abuse of the baby, failure to fulfill the baby’s basic needs (food, touch, sleep) as a result of the fear of causing harm, repeated checking of the baby’s condition especially at night or excessive washing and disinfection of the baby’s clothes due to fear of germs and infections.
Paternal postnatal depression requires psychological counseling which will include individual and couples therapy. During individual sessions, the therapist will reveal the causes that led to depression and try to mitigate the symptoms. During Couples therapy sessions, the therapist will attempt to established new family equilibrium to replace the one lost with the arrival of the new baby.
Severe cases will demand the intervention of a psychiatrist and the use of anti-depressant drugs (There is a variety of drugs meant to treat after birth depression, among which are Zoloft, Celexa, sertraline, Prozac, Citalopram, Effexor XR, Paxil and more). Combined with psychotherapy, medical treatment can work wonders.
Why is it important to treat father after birth depression?
With growing awareness to the possibility of fathers facing depression and the availability of treating methods (psychological and pharmacological), there is no reason why fathers to newborns or their families should suffer.
Dad postpartum depression can be a heavy burden on a new family and may cause substantial harm to the baby’s mental development. A study carried out in the University of Oxford in England in 2008 examined more than 10,000 seven-year-old children to fathers who showed symptoms of depression after their birth. It was discovered that these children were more likely to suffer from psychiatrist problems compared to the general population.
Article was Contributed by Dr. Mary Lunel, a clinical psychologist from Melbourne Australia