Breaking the Silence: Postpartum Depression in Fathers

Postpartum depression in men is a very real and everyday reality.

Though rarely discussed, 1 out of 10 fathers-to-be experience this dark cloud over what is such a beautiful life event.

What births the depression, how it manifests, is expressed, is experienced, and how to treat it differ drastically from mothers: equal chaos, yet two different worlds.

Men and society at large need to understand how postpartum depression impacts men to prevent new dads from suffering in silence so they can be healthy partners and become the best dads possible.

*please note this article is written for the perspective of cishet men as the non-birthing parent - experiences may be different for other non-birthing parents.

What is Postpartum Depression in Men?

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a period of major depression disorder (MDD) that parents experience after childbirth.

Commonly referred to as “baby blues,” postpartum depression isn’t cute or benign, nor does it pass quickly.

The onset of PPD may occur directly after childbirth to a year later and, on average, lasts up to six months. When the usual physical and mental exhaustion and pain are accounted for, the first two years of parenthood can be an excruciating and taxing struggle, depending on when PPD symptoms begin.

Although about 30% of women experience the “baby blues,” men certainly aren’t immune to it. Generally, symptoms of postpartum depression include low mood (depression), irritability, anxiety, poor or irregular sleeping patterns, low or increased appetite, decreased libido and poor sexual performance, and, in worse cases, suicidal ideations.

Though there are no set criteria, this period of depression has the potential to differ between men and women significantly.

With women, PPD is typically driven by the hormonal changes that women experience during pregnancy.

With men, several factors may cause PPD: any present hormonal imbalances (i.e., low testosterone), if the mother experiences PPD, and, possibly the most significant factor, the outside pressures and weight of fatherhood.

Societal Pressures of Fatherhood

What does it mean to be a father? What does a good father look like? Throughout history and pop culture, society has always had solid, strict, inflexible definitions of fatherhood.

The roles, positions, obligations, and responsibilities are noble and inspiring, yet can be overwhelming and suffocating - especially for young and new dads, and those elsewhere on the gender spectrum. If anyone were to do an online search or a survey among strangers about what determines a good dad, they would respond with “provider, protector, hero, first love, first example, superman, etc.”

Being a good dad is not only an aspiration but a societal imperative; anything that deviates from that or falters is deemed a failure.

Though this heroic call for a man to become his higher self or fulfil his true calling is beautiful and noble, it’s mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually taxing. Men may feel the pressure to be the incredible father of their childhood or, inversely, a better image and example than the one they had.

In some cases, many cases, men didn’t have a consistent example of a father, if they had one at all.

There is a weight and responsibility to being a father that many men don’t want to run from, no matter how daunting it may seem. Understanding the symptoms, differences in presentation, and potential coping strategies is critical for supporting men who may be struggling with postpartum depression.

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression in Men

Below are some examples of how PPD manifests in dads and how they differ from mums, highlighting what to look out for.

Emotional Changes

Men experiencing postpartum depression may feel overwhelmed, sad, irritable, or anxious. They might also experience a sense of hopelessness or worthlessness.

Behavioural Changes

Common behavioural changes include withdrawal from family and friends, loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed, changes in appetite, difficulty sleeping, and external outbursts, such as rage and anger, and becoming short-tempered and argumentative.

Physical Symptoms

Fatigue, headaches, digestive issues, sexual dysfunction, and physical aches and pains can also manifest in men with postpartum depression.

Relationship Strain

Postpartum depression in men typically is more external, which will cause strain in relationships, leading to conflicts with partners and difficulty bonding with the new-born.

Differences Compared to Women

While some symptoms of postpartum depression are similar between men and women, there are notable differences:

Expression of Emotions

Men may be less likely to express their emotions openly or seek help, leading to underreporting of symptoms compared to women. This repression only exacerbates the symptoms and the PPD itself.

Externalization of Symptoms

Men might externalize their symptoms by engaging in risky behaviours, substance abuse, or becoming excessively focused on work as a way to cope.

Impact on Parenting

Postpartum depression in men can affect their ability to bond with the baby and contribute to caregiving responsibilities, potentially impacting the child's development.

Tips for Men Experiencing Postpartum Depression

Through all the difficulties of dealing with the pressures of fatherhood, experiencing postpartum depression, and attempting to be a caring, supportive partner, there are solutions.

There are a number of strategies and resources to help fathers fight the grey cloud of postpartum depression.

These aren’t just pieces of advice, following them becomes the blueprint to healthier and happier fatherhood.

Seek Support

Men should recognize that experiencing postpartum depression is not a sign of weakness and seek support from partners, family, friends, or mental health professionals.

Open Communication

Talking openly with their partner about their feelings and struggles can help men feel understood and supported.

Self-Care

Engaging in self-care activities such as exercise, proper nutrition, and adequate rest can help alleviate symptoms of depression.

Professional Help

Counselling, therapy, or medication prescribed by a healthcare provider can be effective treatments for more severe cases of postpartum depression in men.

Here are some organisations to get in touch with:

  • Your GP
  • Your psychologist or psychiatrist
  • Beyond Blue – online or call 1300 224 636
  • Lifeline – 13 11 14
  • PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) — 1300 726 306
  • ForWhen — 1300 24 23 22 (Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 4.30pm)
  • Gidget Foundation — online and telehealth support — 1300 22 4636
  • Mensline offer support and counselling services on 1300 78 99 78
  • Dadbooster is a new online treatment program

Support Groups

Joining support tailored explicitly for fathers experiencing postpartum depression can provide a sense of community and understanding. With this option, family and close friends are a part of support as well.

Conclusion

Postpartum depression in men manifests through a range of emotional, behavioural, and physical symptoms, which may differ from how it presents in women, so it often goes unrecognized - even by the men experiencing it.

Recognizing these symptoms, seeking support, and accessing appropriate treatment are crucial steps for men to counteract postpartum depression and promote their mental well-being.

The birth of a child shouldn’t be a challenging time; it’s meant to be a beautiful, precious time filled with transformation, profound realization and growth, and love.

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