New Dads, Paternal Postnatal Depression is Normal
Updated: Jun 17
“I needed emotional support,” said Allen, a man whose wife was going through postpartum depression after giving birth.
He, too, was experiencing mental health issues after the birth of their child, but did not seek treatment, because he thought that “as a man”, he could fix them himself.
His wife received help from a nonprofit specializing in supporting new parents with their mental health. She got better. He, however, was feeling lost. There were few resources for new fathers, and nobody talked about paternal postnatal depression (PPND).
He explained that he could not go to his male friends, parents or colleagues, and tell them about the mental health issues he was facing, because it was not seen as socially acceptable.
Thankfully, he decided – after struggling emotionally and mentally for a period – that it was time to ask for help. He received counselling for himself and eventually even went to couples’ counselling with his wife, which helped him better understand what she needed.
Looking back, if the gynecologist had explained to him what PPND might look like, that it is normal for men to go through it, and the next steps in seeking treatment, Allen said that it would have been helpful.
What Is PPND?
Many people might know of postpartum depression (PPD), a clinical depression related to childbirth. PPD is very common with one in seven women experiencing symptoms after giving birth. Yet, it is not only women who go through childbirth related depressions.
Men, for instance, are also susceptible; one report noted that it could affect one in 10 men, with 50 percent of men who have partners experiencing PPD going “on to develop depression themselves”. The symptoms include: “anger, sudden outbursts or violent behavior, substance abuse, irritability, low motivation, poor concentration, suicidal thoughts, withdrawing socially, or working a lot more or less”.
According to Dr. Robyn Horsager-Boehrer, warnings signs of PPND can look different in men than in women. Though men living with PPND might still show many of the common symptoms experienced by women like sleep changes, they might experience fewer outwardly emotional expressions like crying.
Why Do Men Experience PPND?
There are many reasons why men live with symptoms of PPND – both biological and environmental.
When a new mother “experiences significant hormonal changes” during her pregnancy and after giving birth, it could result in her male partner experiencing “drops in the levels of” various hormones like “testosterone, estrogen, cortisol, and vasopressin”. These drops could lead to mood changes.
Moreover, like many new mothers, new fathers are stressed out from the steep learning curve that comes with taking care of a baby at home as well as the expectations to be successful at work. Some men might also feel distant from their partners who may seem to be closer with the infant than with them.
Regardless of what the reason may be, there are many treatment options available for men who experience PPND.
For many men, the first step is often the most difficult step. They might find it challenging to accept that PPND is not something they can fix on their own, and that the symptoms they face are independent of their worth as a father.
Aside from the stigma they might face when talking about mental health issues, researchers have found that many men, compared to women, generally avoid going to medical professionals. In one study surveying men, 65 percent of respondents “said they avoid going to the doctor as long as possible”, with 37 percent of respondents admitting that they had kept information from their healthcare provider.
The most important step a man can take towards treating PPND is to accept that he might need to talk to a healthcare provider about the changes in his life and behaviors.
Some people may benefit from taking medications prescribed by a doctor while others find psychotherapy with licensed mental healthcare providers effective; many also opt for a combination of both medications and psychotherapy.
In psychotherapy, which includes talk therapy like cognitive-behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy, the dad can explore specific symptoms he has been facing with his psychologist or therapist, and work on next steps. He could also go to counseling with his partner, who would be an integral part of his treatment process.
Even between visits to the clinic, he could use technology platforms like GenMind™ to note down the symptoms he is experiencing and send them to his healthcare provider, who can watch out for important warning signs and intervene appropriately.
Of course, there is still a big gap between what men with PPND need and what is currently out there. Though there are support sites that help educate people about the matter, many men who talk about the mental health issues they might face or their emotions after having a child come into the world might face ridicule from close friends and family members for being ‘weak’ or ‘effeminate’. Those comments, however, can further isolate the men who already feel like they need more support from the people closest to them.
Yet, we can all take the first step in creating awareness and normalizing the idea of seeking mental health treatment. This Father’s Day, why not start a conversation about PPND to raise more awareness around the symptoms that fathers all over the world might be facing? Join us on LinkedIn as we learn more about PPND and how we can all do our part.