Dads suffer from postpartum depression too

Postpartum depression is no longer the taboo topic it was a decade ago. But did you know men can get it too? Here’s everything you need to know about Paternal Postpartum Depression

When Seattle lawyer David welcomed his son Noah into the world in 2010, he cried like a baby. “I’m not kidding when I say it was the most incredible experience of my life,” says David. “I was in awe at how strong and amazing my wife had been during labor and I just couldn’t believe this wiggly little creature was ours. He was perfect. I was going to teach him to ride a motorcycle and to play baseball. I had big plans.”

But a week after Noah was born, David went back to work. As the sleepless nights and work pressures started to add up, David’s newborn bubble quickly popped. “I was angry all the time,” he says. “I just couldn’t enjoy Noah or my wife or even riding my bike. I started drinking too much when I got home from work and my wife wasn’t happy. She kept telling me I needed to talk to someone, but I wouldn’t listen. It took months of her on my back for me to agree to couples counseling, and that’s when I found out I had postpartum depression.”

David isn’t alone. According to a study review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 10 percent of men experience paternal postpartum depression (PPPD) between the first trimester of pregnancy and their child’s first birthday. In the three- to six-month period following the baby’s arrival, that number jumps to 26 percent. Compared to the 5.5 percent of men in the general population who experience depression, that’s a significant increase.

And when you consider that the rate of maternal postpartum depression has dropped in recent years – from 16 percent in 2004 to 12 percent in 2012 – it becomes clear that PPPD needs to be addressed.

Defining paternal postpartum depression

Despite these sobering statistics, some experts aren’t so sure that the depressive symptoms some fathers experience after the birth of a child should be classified as postpartum depression. Pointing to the hormonal fluctuations women experience during and after childbirth as the main cause of postpartum depression, they believe the two conditions can’t be compared.

But researchers at the University of Southern California beg to differ. In a landmark 2017 study, they found that men’s testosterone levels often drop after the birth of a baby and that men with lower testosterone report feeling more depressed. So, it seems that PPPD may also have a hormonal component.

Plus, postpartum depression in both men and women hasn’t been proven to be exclusively caused by hormones – many experts believe that sleep deprivation, a history of mental illness and several other factors may also play a role.

What are the risk factors for postpartum depression in men?

While the mechanisms behind PPPD are still misunderstood, these risk factors may increase a man’s chance of experiencing it:

  • Having a partner who has postpartum depression (up to 50% of men whose partners have it are depressed too)
  • Lack of sleep
  • Hormonal changes (including a drop in testosterone)
  • A personal or family history of depression or anxiety
  • Relationship stress
  • Financial stress
  • Excessive stress about becoming a parent
  • Lack of support from family and friends
  • A poor relationship with one or both parents
  • A major life event, such as losing a loved one or a job
  • Being the father of multiples or a baby with special needs

What are the symptoms of paternal postpartum depression?

While the symptoms vary from person to person, your partner could have PPPD if he:

  • Gets easily irritated, agitated, stressed or frustrated
  • Is distant
  • Has difficulty concentrating
  • Lacks motivation
  • Is always tired
  • Loses interest in hobbies, friends and/or sex
  • Engages in reckless behavior, such as drinking, drugs or gambling
  • Spends a lot more time at work
  • Shares feelings of worthlessness or suicidal thoughts

If you believe that your partner may be depressed, approach him with caution and care. When David’s wife read out a list of symptoms of PPPD to him one day, he became defensive and a huge fight ensued.

“The thing that finally changed everything for me was when the couples’ counselor made me fill out a postpartum depression scale,” says David. “It indicated right away that I had it and that’s when I believed it… I guess because it was an official scale developed by experts. I did some therapy on my own and took some anti-depressants for a while, and the fog lifted. Eight years later, I’m doing great and I’m so grateful that my wife pushed me to get help. Noah’s a little baseball star now!”

To access the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale online, click here. You may want to print it out and ask your partner (during a calm moment) if you could each fill it out and compare notes to see how you’re both feeling. Try to discuss the results in a non-judgmental way and encourage your partner to seek the help he needs.

Where to get help

Your partner should talk to your family doctor about treatment options. They may refer him to a mental-health professional who can provide therapy and anti-depressant medication if necessary. He can also seek support from men in similar situations on websites such as PostpartumMen.

For immediate and confidential support 24/7, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255.