When actress Brooke Shields wrote “Down Came the Rain,” a book about the emotional difficulties she experienced after her first child was born, postpartum depression received national attention. Up to one in five women become depressed in the first postpartum year due to a combination of hormonal fluctuations, sustained sleep deprivation and the major life changes that accompany new motherhood.
Less commonly recognized is the fact that many new fathers experience depression, too. Paternal postpartum depression occurs in 10 percent of fathers within the first year of their newborn’s life. That’s twice as high as the incidence of depression among men in the general population. Rates are even higher among men with depressed partners: studies have documented paternal postpartum depression in 25 to 50 percent of men in that category. Other risk factors include having a history of depression, being unmarried and having financial difficulties.
It’s important to recognize that fathers experience many of the same stressors as new mothers, including sleep deprivation, caring for a newborn and combining work with parenting. In addition, as new mothers shift their attention to their newborn, new fathers may feel isolated, emotionally replaced or sexually rejected. New fathers can be overwhelmed by expectations to support all other family members, including special support for partners who are recovering from childbirth and learning to breastfeed.
Men who feel insecure about their inability to parent feel particularly challenged providing newborn care and handling infant-related problems. At the same time, they may feel increased pressure to be financially responsible for their family. Men who are unemployed, experiencing job stress or are under financial strain are more likely to exhibit depressive symptoms.
Symptoms of depression in men may look different than those in women. Possible signs include sadness, withdrawal, irritability, exhaustion, fighting at home and a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. Some men turn to alcohol for solace or distract themselves with television or hobbies.
Depression can affect work behavior, increase marital discord and negatively influence parenting. Depressed fathers may have less motivation to sing, read, play and interact with their child. And long-term parental depression can affect a child’s development. One study showed that children were twice as likely to have emotional and behavioral problems if their fathers were depressed. Boys with depressed fathers were two and a half times as likely to have disciplinary problems. Other studies reveal cognitive and physical delays related to parental depression.
So it’s important for fathers with depression to receive professional help. However, healthcare professionals may not be primed to identify this condition. Pediatric and postpartum care focuses on infant development and maternal health rather than paternal well-being. Therefore, new parents and their family members must learn to recognize signs of depression in either parent.
If you suspect depression in yourself or your partner, there’s an online self-screening test you can take. Called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, this test can help you diagnose postpartum depression, but the rating scales are different for each sex. Men can utilize the test posted on www.postpartummen.com/ppnd.htm while a version for women is online at www.postpartumstress.com/docs/epds.pdf.
If you or your partner is concerned about depression, speak to your personal healthcare provider, pediatrician or local community health group. Help is available. Ask for a referral to a professional counselor or support group. The websites and hotlines listed below provide additional information.
Postpartum Depression Stress Line: 888-773-7090
Postpartum Support International (Spanish): 800-944-4773
Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist
Parenting advice is given as a suggestion only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider.