Dads Experience Postpartum Depression, Too! Symptoms of Paternal Depression and 4 Reasons We Need to Support Dads
Dads experience postpartum depression, also called paternal depression, at similar rates to Moms, yet there is very little support and identification of it.
Paternal Depression often goes unnoticed and undiagnosed by professionals in the weeks and months following the birth of the baby, leaving men to struggle with feelings of anger, despair, hopelessness or guilt alone.
The perinatal period (that 0-12 months following the birth of your baby) is a vulnerable time. It’s new, often unpredictable, and often filled with emotions. Western society has really grown in raising awareness around maternal depression and maternal mental health! These gains in research and popular knowledge create opportunities for mothers to identify a postpartum mood disorder and get support. However, a little known fact is that fathers also struggle with postpartum mood disorders at almost the same rates. How is this affecting the relationships between partners? How does this lack of support and awareness affect dads who are struggling?
In western culture, there has been a huge shift in fathers having more close involvement in the care of their children! Yet, we have much work to do to catch up in supporting the mental health of fathers who are for the first time stepping up to the plate and in many cases taking on full-time care of their children. Mental health care professionals, doctors and pediatricians who are involved in postpartum care are not often trained to ask fathers about symptoms of depression, and studies also show that fathers seem to seek mental health care at much lower rates than mothers (Isacco, Hofscher, & Molloy, 2016).
We often hear dads say things like this:
But Dads also can struggle to provide this, when jobs are stressful, when there is the loss of a job, or when a partner is also depressed. Anger+Despair can lead to hopelessness and guilt. And it’s hard to express this when dads aren’t being asked about their feelings or thoughts in the postpartum period.
Fathers also receive little attention from mental health professionals, doctors, and wider society when it comes to tracking mood changes, the need for support, and simply what it’s like to be a dad! Dads also are not required to attend postpartum visits, and often just have less time interacting with professionals in the postpartum period. So, it’s hard to identify depression, and hard to put words to what you’re feeling, and perhaps you don’t feel like you have the opportunity or permission to talk about this in the first place!
Dads can experience depression at any time, but I want to take this article to focus in on depression that occurs during pregnancy or in the six months to a year following the birth of the child. We will look at symptoms of postpartum paternal depression, risk factors for dads who experience depression, and when to seek help from a professional.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression in Fathers:
Depression in Fathers can also look different than our typical concept on Depression in Women or even classic “depressed” symptoms like fatigue, lack of enjoyment, and tearfulness. It can look like:
Difficulty seeing your partner’s needs or pain
(Flaskerud, 2014; Martin, Neighbors, & Griffith, 2013). The fact that many of these symptoms are not usually associated with postpartum paternal depression makes it difficult to screen for and diagnose--professional may not be asking the right questions when speaking with fathers! Also, as a Dad you may not even be aware that what you’re experiencing might be due to a postpartum mood disorder.
Risk Factors for Postpartum Paternal Depression
You’re more likely to experience Postpartum Paternal Depression if:
You have low relationship satisfaction
You have a partner who is depressed
You have a history of depression
Your infant has Medical complications (genetic difference, a stay in NICU, other
You are quite young
When any of these stressors, changes in your partner’s mood or disruptions in your family are present, you might feel a:
These are difficult thoughts and feelings to work with, so it is not a surprise that Dads are 50% more likely to experience postpartum depression themselves if they have a partner who is also depressed at this time.
Typical Emotional Challenges Fathers Face:
According to one study, fathers sometimes report there is a “myriad of complicated
emotions, such as helplessness due to lack of knowledge and
experience, that of “…a bystander to the mother infant bond” (Kumar, Oliffe, & Kelly, 2018). They may also feel the desire to work to provide for the family and also the desire to be an involved parent. This creates much emotional tension, and without a mentor, friend or professional to talk through this with, tension can build and worsen emotional turmoil (Kowlessar, Fox, & Wittkowski, 2014; Kumar et al., 2018).
In addition to this, fathers in western culture may hold these beliefs
I must provide safety and stability for the family,
I must maintain emotional strength without displaying sadness
I must be able to fix all problems.
If you just had a baby , are a father, and are experiencing the following, you might be experiencing postpartum paternal depression:
More withdrawn towards your baby--less positive interactions!
Lower romantic relationship satisfaction
Behavior problems when your child is older, especially ages 3-10
Getting help for yourself is important because the Mental Health of both parents affects the mental health of the children!
If you identify with much or part of this information, we encourage you to reach out for help! You’re not alone, though it may feel that way due to the large lack of support and communication about mental health changes that are common for Dads during pregnancy and postpartum.