Here are the factors and signs of paternal postnatal depression.
When people typically talk about postpartum depression, they mention crippling anxiety, sadness, extreme emotions and difficulty in bonding with the baby. What they usually don't mention is that both mothers and fathers alike can feel this way for different reasons.
"New fathers can also suffer from depression either during pregnancy or after the birth--it's called paternal postnatal depression," says Katie L. Monarch, MSW, LCSW, licensed clinical social worker and coordinator of the Postpartum Depression Program at St. Joseph Hospital, Orange.
A recent report in JAMA Psychiatry is just the latest in a group of studies confirming this finding. "Although fathers aren't routinely screened for postpartum depression as mothers are during follow-up OBGYN appointments, it's important to recognize when a dad's feelings go beyond the usual stresses caused by normal life changes, such as lack of sleep, that a new baby can bring. That's especially crucial because men may not talk about or seek help for depression, and their symptoms can look different than what women experience. Depression can also affect the family dynamic--creating a wedge between the parents--so it's important to address it early on," Monarch says.
Know the risks
There are some factors that can give certain new dads a stronger likelihood of developing paternal postnatal depression, Monarch says. "If a man has a history of depression, that can play a part. If his partner has postpartum depression, that can also increase the risk, as can any underlying relationship conflicts."
Relationship tension isn't the only kind of stress that can lead to depression. "New fathers (just like new mothers) may also be worried about finances that go along with having a new baby, like diapers, formula and childcare. They can also be stressed about work, limited paternity leave, job instability or even job loss. These things can be triggers," Monarch says.
And it's harder to take care of someone else, especially a newborn, if a dad isn't taking care of himself. "If he's in poor health--overweight, smoking or has chronic health conditions that aren't managed properly--it will be hard to get the energy to move through the depressive symptoms," Monarch says.
Know the signs
Although sleep deprivation can cause irritability, it can be a red flag if a new dad is having panic attacks or seems irrationally angry on an ongoing basis. "With paternal postnatal depression, a man's emotions and behaviors can change," Monarch says. "In addition to anger and panic, he may feel anxiety, sadness or a sense of uselessness. He can also experience physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, fatigue or weight loss or gain."
To loved ones, it may seem as if the dad with depression has undergone a personality change. "A man who used to show affection freely may start to withdraw; someone who worked regular hours may stay late at the office on a regular basis or someone who is usually solid and dependable will take unhealthy risks, such as drinking more frequently," Monarch says.
"Should a new dad exhibit any of these behaviors for more than two weeks, it is time to have a conversation about getting him help."
Know how to help
Although taking that first step may be difficult, it can begin a path to healing. "A trained therapist can guide new dads in processing emotions and issues in real time; he can go alone or with his partner, depending on the circumstances," Monarch says. "In addition to talking with a therapist, developing a support network of other dads is critical. Depending on the symptoms and their severity, a therapist may prescribe anti-depression medication as well."
Finally, new dads should establish healthy lifestyle habits. "New dads can exercise, eat foods that are good for them, abstain from smoking and lower their stress levels. Doing these things are positive forces that can help lift the spirit and counterbalance the negative feelings," Monarch says.
St. Joseph Hospital, Orange, offers comprehensive treatment and support for postnatal paternal depression for new dads and postpartum depression for new moms , provided by an expert team of psychiatrists, licensed clinical therapists and social workers, in a supportive and therapeutic environment. To learn more, click here or call 714-771-8101.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.