Yes, postpartum depression is real, but it does not only affect moms. The demands and challenges of being a new parent can also wreak havoc on a dad's mental health.
Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND) is not exactly new. Previous studies have found that one in four dads, about 10%, experience it, and its incidence rate is high between three and six months after the birth of the child. Like women who experience hormone surges during pregnancy and after birth, the hormone levels of dads are affected, too.
"We often think of motherhood as biologically driven because many mothers have biological connections to their babies through breastfeeding and pregnancy," said Darby Saxbe, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Univerity of Southern California (USC) and lead author of a recent study that linked PPND to men's testosterone levels. Postpartum depression is not just a mom thing. "It's a real condition that might be linked to hormones and biology," he said in a press release.
The study, published in the journal Hormones and Behavior, showed that dads who are more likely to suffer from PPND are those whose testosterone levels dropped within the first nine months after their baby's arrival. The lower their testosterone levels, the more depressed the new dads felt. But what exactly causes new dad's testosterone levels to drop is still unknown. Hormones are just one of the possible causes of PPND.
According to Christina Hibbert, PsyD., an expert on postpartum mental health, PPND has been associated with lack of adequate sleep and a difficult time adjusting to his new role, which are typical for all new parents. New dads who feel disconnected from their baby and their partner or excluded in the family after childbirth can also undergo depression. Other possible triggers are a history of mental illness, having a depressed partner, relationship stress, financial worries, and stress in caring for a "difficult baby," which could range from being colicky or being fragile such as preemies.
So how would you know if your partner is experiencing PPND? The symptoms are similar to women who have PPD: sadness, hopelessness, irritability, anxiety, anger, or agitation that persist through months. Psychotherapist Dr. Will Courtenay, author of Dying to Be Men and the founder of the website PostpartumMen.com, have devised a questionnaire dads can take to check if they have PPND. Dr. Hibbert listed the some the symptoms a new dad may exhibit if he's suffering from PPND:
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Isolating or withdrawing from relationships
Working a lot more or a lot less
Having low energy or always feeling fatigued
Having low motivation and poor concentration, even on activities they used to enjoy, including sex
Engaging in risky behavior such as turning to substances such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc.
Drastic changes in weight or appetite
Having persistent eadaches, muscle aches, stomach/digestion issues)
Displaying anger and outbursts
Exhibiting violent or impulsive behavior
Having suicidal thoughts
All parents need time to adjust to their new life as parents. But unlike moms who are more likely to talk about it (and have a social network whom they can reach out for support), it's hard for dads to reach out to a friend even if that friend is also a dad and talk about it. But if left untreated, "they can result in damaging, long-term consequences for a man, his marriage, and his entire family," Dr. Courtenay told Parents. Here are some of your options:
1. Encourage him to talk to you and be open about what his feelings. Encourage him to ditch macho facade so he can easily admit he needs help. Just like PPD, a team effort is crucial.
2. Let him be more involved in childcare. Teach him the basics and trust that he can take care of his child. Stop yourself from always criticizing the way he does things.
3.Don't forget to spend time as a couple. You are husband and wife first before the baby arrived. Let him know that while a lot of things have changed, some remain the same.
4. Settle into your new daily routine. Consider sleep issues and strive to set aside time for exercise, sports, his hobby, so it doesn't feel like a big adjustment
5. Seek professional help. Counseling or mediations may help. Don't worry about what others will say. Your goal is to be healthy again to help your partner raise your child well.