Postpartum Support International has declared May as National Maternal Depression Awareness Month. The goal is to bring awareness to the estimated 1 in 7 women who will suffer from postpartum depression (PPD), encouraging them to ‘speak up when you’re down’. PPD, however, is not solely related to women. PPD also occurs in men, yet many suffer in silence.
There is a known problem with men seeking help for depression in general. PPD specifically is an issue healthcare providers previously thought only occurred in women. A major issue is that our society as a whole has the belief that men should be strong and ‘just deal’. Feelings of anxiety or emptiness in men are often misunderstood or ignored so they don’t ask for help.
According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, PPD in new fathers is more common than previously thought. The study found that 10% of men have either prenatal depression or PPD.
The best predictor of whether a man experiences PPD is whether his partner is also depressed. Additionally, lack of sleep, a tense relationship with their partner, excessive stress about their baby and becoming a new parent, lack of support from others and a sense of being excluded from the connection between mother and baby are all things that increase the risk for developing PPD.
The current generation of fathers are also experiencing the same economic, social and psychological pressures that women have faced for decades. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, 80% of people who lost their job during the recession were men. Now that more mothers are working, men face more responsibilities with childcare and household tasks previously attributed to women. These additional stressors coupled with lack of sleep can easily lead to PPD in men.
What are the warning signs of PPD?
Depressed mood, severe mood swings, severe anxiety, intense irritability and anger, uncontrollable crying, difficulty bonding with your baby, thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, feeling guilty or inadequate, lack of interest in things you used to enjoy, insomnia or excessive sleeping, inability to take care of oneself (showering, eating, getting dressed) are all signs of PPD.
Antidepressants such as Zoloft or Paxil are often prescribed to help balance chemicals in the brain that control mood.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is highly recommended for PPD. CBT focuses on the patterns of thinking, behaviour, and emotional responses that are associated with stress, anxiety, depression and negative thinking. Clients learn techniques to recognise and change these unhealthy patterns to improve daily functioning and life satisfaction. For example, if a common thought is ‘I’m a terrible father’ a CBT therapist will ask the individual to think about the evidence against this thought: your baby is growing, when your baby gets sick you call a doctor, etc.
In addition to going to therapy, support groups may be beneficial. Talking with others who are experiencing PPD, especially men, may help the father feel less alone and give him skills to help manage his symptoms and feelings.
Being of service to others can help the father feel better. Giving a family member or friend a call or shooting them a text to see how they are doing without even sharing his issues may be helpful. Listening to others’ problems and lending an ear is a good way to ‘get out of your head’.
Keeping a daily routine is important to help stabilise moods. This could include showering, getting dressed, and eating breakfast everyday even if the father has no other plans. Engaging in self-care is also crucial to your mental health. Going for a walk outside, practising meditation or stretching for 10 minutes everyday are healthy coping skills. Taking care of yourself will help the father be more present and available for his family.
It is important to seek help. Reaching out to a primary care physician, finding a therapist specialising in anxiety and depression or PPD and looking into new parent support groups are all important steps to take for PPD treatment. Although PPD takes time to recover from, it is possible to feel better with treatment.
Kimberly Hershenson is a summa cum laude graduate from Columbia University’s School of Social Work. She is currently a therapist at Revitalife Therapy in New York