Postpartum is the period after a woman has given birth. One in five women is affected with depression in the postpartum period. This is marked by excessive crying, detachment from the baby, intrusive thoughts, and isolation. While this struggle is predominantly seen in women, can dads get this diagnosis too? Experts say yes.
According to Dr Horsager-Boehrer of UT Southwestern Medical Center, postpartum depression affects 1 in 10 males. How can this occur? This can happen from not feeling bonded with the baby, concerns for not being helpful enough to their partner, and other factors that pertain to safety, lack of sleep, and relationships. Dads, although less likely to have paternity leave after the baby is born, are often isolated in different ways. It can be typical to change or lose friend groups or not have people in their life that can relate to the issues of parenting, further contributing to depressive symptoms.
Dad Rob Sandler described his depression by saying, “I felt as if I was being left behind in this difficult phase of parenthood, and those feelings just spiralled more out of control and became more intense.”
Rob’s story is one of the so many dads out there who don’t know what may be going on and think these feelings after having a baby are typical. For Mark Williams, another dad, shares: “For me, I acted totally out of character and wanted to avoid family members. I drank more to cope and was not feeling the overwhelming paternal love that society was telling me I should.”
Substance abuse, isolation, and unhealthy eating can become poor coping skills that develop because of paternal postpartum depression.
So how do dads combat postpartum depression? The same as mums do, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It’s important to create those small practices of eating well, getting outside, exercising, and getting enough sleep. But this can be so difficult with a new baby. Taking things slow and steady, wins the race. When dads implement these elements of health where they can, it will eventually become a habit after the adjustment to new parent life. These habits could revolutionise mental health, but there is one key aspect of health that can help quicker than some of the others.
Although men typically don’t take advantage of therapy as often as women do, it’s a revolutionary way to find some relief from depressive symptoms. When a dad has postpartum depression, they may feel inhibited in sharing with their partner because the mum may be struggling too. But therapy can be a safe space for dads to talk about what’s going on and the struggles they are facing along with finding time to develop good physical health.
Recently, dad support groups have started to develop in the mental health field. Postpartum Support International, an organisation committed to raising awareness about the issues of postpartum depression in men and women, had created resources for weekly, virtual groups so dads across the country can talk and relate to one another. These groups try to lessen the gap of loneliness for dads and improve mental health at the same time. When dads notice and tap into their mental health recovery, postpartum depression doesn’t have to last as long.
Postpartum depression can happen to dads. There is help and there is room for recovery. You are not alone, and there is hope to reduce the rates of postpartum depression with new resources and healthy habits that can lead to a reduction of symptoms and easier parental adjustment time.
Tiffany Wicks, EdD received a doctorate in education from Johns Hopkins University. She conducts independent research about maternal morbidity in marginalised communities.