Ten percent of new fathers experience postpartum depression
Postpartum depression is commonly associated with new moms. But it’s something that can affect new dads, too.
While 20 percent of women will experience postpartum depression, about 10 percent of men will experience it during the perinatal period. But that number could be higher as men can express their depression differently, according to Sheehan Fisher, PhD, a psychologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
“The way men express depression isn’t always fitting the traditional model of depression,” Fisher said. “Men may have symptoms of alcohol use or aggressive behavior to mask or deal with their depression or stress symptoms. Therefore, once they are evaluated, they may not actually meet criteria. Some of the criteria do not really fit the masculine cultural view about how to express emotion or for a man to admit what they are going through.”
Men are less likely to talk about feelings of sadness or depression after the birth of a baby, and far fewer men than women seek treatment. In men, the onset of postpartum depression typically occurs three to six months after the child’s birth, partially because the father is more engaged with the child during that period. Fisher said there are also studies that show the first five years of the child’s life could lead to increased depressive symptoms in the father.
Fathers often have different symptoms than mothers. Men can experience sadness and difficulty sleeping, but may also experience their sadness and depression as aggression. Symptoms can also mimic those of major depression disorder, such as a lack of pleasure in things you usually enjoy, difficulty sleeping, different eating habits and sometimes substance use. Other possible symptoms are difficulty in making decisions, fatigue and possibly even thoughts of suicide.
But one of the concerning factors Fisher has seen in his research is the father’s depression can affect the child.
“It can have an impact on the child’s medical and mental health,” Fisher said. “What we know is that the father’s mental health will have an impact on the child. And if we only intervene on behalf of mothers, we are still putting that child at risk.”
If new fathers are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, Fisher said they should talk to a primary care provider and receive a screening to see if they need further treatment from a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Fisher said there are also support groups for fathers to talk about stress during their new phase of their life.