Postnatal Depression In Men
By Belinda Horton
We're getting better as a society at recognising that antenatal and postnatal depression and anxiety are legitimate illnesses experienced by many new mums, and require care and treatment. However, awareness that men also suffer from these types of depression, and understanding of the devastating emotional, social and financial impact on families, friends, colleagues and workplaces, has a long way to go.
About one in 20 fathers are now diagnosed with postnatal depression each year in Australia. The total number may be even higher as many more men struggle without seeking diagnosis or support. Additionally, more than one in seven new dads in Australia have a partner diagnosed with postnatal depression, which creates extra pressures in managing a new baby, an unwell partner, extra household duties and work demands. This can also contribute to dads developing postnatal depression themselves.
Unlike new mums who have health visits with maternal/child-health nurses, a midwife or a doctor where these problems are often picked up, dads are not routinely screened for mental health. The stigma attached to mental illness in general and society's expectations that men should be strong are also powerful silencers. Displaying emotions is perceived by some as a sign of weakness, and men are often told to "man up" or "harden up". This contributes to men being less willing to reveal their difficulties or ask for help.
Despite the prevalence, there remains a widespread belief that postnatal depression is a hormonal or chemical issue that only affects women. This incorrect information is a key reason it remains undiagnosed and untreated in many men. With the right treatment and support, at the right time, the majority of men (and women) fully recover from postnatal depression. However, it is a serious illness that usually does not go away by itself. It is critical to understand the risk factors, signs to look out for and where to go for help.
What Causes Postnatal Depression In Dads?
Like all forms of depression, a range of biological, social and psychological factors contribute to men developing postnatal depression. These differ for each person and can include:
- Worries about extra responsibilities and financial pressures.
- Stress and changes in the parents' relationship, which lead to dads feeling excluded from parenting or distanced from their partner.
- Lack of social and emotional support.
- Feeling disappointed with the experience of fatherhood, or inadequate as a dad.
- Difficulty adjusting to the changes of parenthood.
- Changes in social life.
Postnatal depression affects men of every age, personality type and economic status, but dads are more at risk if:
- Their partner has antenatal or postnatal depression.
- They have a previous history of depression or anxiety.
- They are having relationship difficulties.
- They are a first-time father.
- Their child has a serious infant illness or irritability.
What Are The Symptoms Of Postnatal Depression In Dads?
While it's normal for expectant and new fathers to experience some difficulties adjusting to fatherhood, symptoms that last for more than two weeks and prevent their ability to function well indicate it's time to get help. Symptoms can include:
- Tiredness, headaches and pain.
- Irritability, anxiety and anger.
- Loss of libido.
- Changes in appetite.
- Sleep disturbance unrelated to the baby.
- Feelings of being overwhelmed, out of control or unable to cope.
- Loss of enjoyment in previous interests.
- Negative obsessive thoughts.
- Loss of confidence and self-esteem.
- Engaging in risk-taking behaviour.
- Withdrawal from intimate relationships, family, friends and community life, and increased hours of work as a result.
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol.
What Are The Potential Impacts Of Postnatal Depression In Dads On Families?
Postnatal depression can negatively affect nearly every area of a man's life, including their relationships, parenting, and capacity to work and care for themselves and others.
A man's relationship with his partner is likely to be impacted by the confusion and conflict that can be created by postnatal depression. New parents may argue more, be more irritable with each other and experience greater difficulty with communication. Old issues may unexpectedly surface.
Ongoing postnatal depression can have persistent detrimental effects on children's development. Research has shown that postnatal depression in dads is associated with poorer social, emotional and behavioural outcomes in children at age three (particularly boys), even when mum is healthy and happy.
It's important that postnatal depression in men is recognised and treated early and effectively. Simple tips for new and expectant dads include:
- Seeking and accepting help if they find they have symptoms of postnatal depression that last for more than two weeks.
- Talking to their partner or other people such as a professional counsellor, doctor, friend or family member about feelings and concerns.
- Keeping an employer informed of the increased demands at home and/or mental-health issues, so they can provide any additional support.
- Having adequate time to spend alone and with their partner, away from the baby.
- Taking regular breaks to do things that provide enjoyment.
- Eating well, exercising and getting adequate sleep.
- Reducing expectations of themselves and their partner.
If you are concerned about yourself or someone else, see a GP for a physical and mental-health assessment