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Post-natal depression: It can happen to dads too

Many of us are aware that new mums can suffer from post-natal depression. But did you know new dads can also be at risk?

When it comes to post-natal depression (PND), most of us are aware that women are at risk. Statistics show the condition is quite common in new mothers, with one in seven suffering. What you may not realise however, is that around ten per cent of men can also be affected.

A significant life change

There’s no doubt the arrival of a newborn is exciting, but it’s also one of the most significant changes in life you can go through. Many couples, no matter how excited they are to become parents, can find this time challenging.

It’s quite normal to feel overwhelmed and stressed during this time, however if these feelings persist, it could be a sign of PND.

What is PND?

Post-natal depression refers to depression that occurs around the time of a baby’s birth. While, it’s common for both parents to experience stress and a low-mood immediately after the arrival, low mood or feelings of depression lasting more than two weeks may be classified as PND. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and may even begin prior to your baby’s birth. This is referred to as antenatal depression.

Many believe men’s experience of PND is directly related to their partner’s depression. While evidence shows that paternal depression correlates highly with maternal depression, men can experience these feelings independently of women.

New fathers who suffer from depression often experience anxiety at the same time. It’s also common for them to exhibit signs prior to childbirth, with depression increasing between six weeks and six months after the arrival of their baby.

Typical signs that a new dad may have PND include:

  • Feeling constantly tired or exhausted
  • Physical signs of high stress levels, including headaches and tense muscles
  • Feeling irritable, angry or moody most of the time
  • Withdrawing emotionally from people close to them (e.g. partner, baby, family and friends)
  • Reluctance to communicate with people
  • Feeling isolated and alone
  • Losing interest in sex
  • Changes to appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping, which is unrelated to the baby’s sleep patterns
  • Being afraid to care for their baby
  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope
  • Exhibiting suicidal thoughts and behaviours, including taking risks

Why do men become depressed?

When it comes to PND, there are a number of contributing factors that are similar in both men and women. These can include stress, lack of sleep, lack of support, changes in relationships, and even a difficult or traumatic birth. However, there are some factors that are specific to men. These include:

  • Fewer opportunities to bond with the baby, particularly before the birth
  • Feeling excluded from the parenting role
  • Changing dynamics and connections with their partner
  • Unmet expectations about having sex with their partner following the birth
  • Worrying about extra responsibilities and financial pressures
  • Trying to manage their work, support their partners, and adjust to their new role as a dad

Men are also less likely to speak up about how they are feeling, which can make matters worse.

As well as contributing factors, there are certain risk factors which mean a father is more likely to develop PND. If they have had depression or anxiety before, or their partner is experiencing PND, they may be at a higher risk. Similarly, relationship problems, low self -esteem, and feeling incompetent as a parent may also play a part.

Seek support

If you, or someone you know is experiencing PND, it’s important to realise you’re not alone. There is a lot of support available, but you should seek help early. The earlier you seek help, the quicker your recovery. The best place to start is with your doctor, who may be able to prescribe medication, or refer you to a specialist.

You can also seek help at any of the places listed below:

  • PANDA (Perinatal, Anxiety & Depression Australia) on 1300 726 306
  • Beyondblue, the national depression initiative, can be contacted on 1300 22 46 36
  • Lifeline Australia offers 24-hour counselling, information and referral. Call them on 13 11 14
  • SANE Australia offer an online chat service and telephone support on 1800 18 7263

It’s now recognised and understood that men suffer PND too, and that their experience is somewhat different to a woman’s. Don’t suffer in silence. Speak up so you can get the support you need.

 

References:

PANDA, About PND, http://www.panda.org.au/practical-information/about-postnatal-depression

PANDA, Anxiety & Depression in Pregnancy & Early Childhood, http://www.panda.org.au/images/FINAL_PDF_Anxiety_and_Depression_in_Early_Parenthood.pdf

PANDA, Perinatal Anxiety & Depression in Men, http://www.panda.org.au/practical-information/information-for-men/100-information-for-men

Raising Children Network, Postnatal depression in men,
http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/men_and_postnatal_depression.html/context/305#risk

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Article by: Defence Health