Ben Wakeling investigates the often taboo subject of post-natal depression amongst new dads. Becoming a father for the first time is a life- changing experience, to say the least.
In what seems like the blink of an eye, time is taken up with trying to maintain the delicate balance between work and fatherhood; and dads may find themselves worrying about finances far more than they used to. All of this can take its toll on a new father’s health – with studies providing evidence that men, as well as women, can be susceptible to post natal depression.
What are the symptoms of pnd?
Although not as common in men as it is in women –with around 1 in 25 fathers demonstrating the symptoms of PND, compared to 1 in 10 for mothers – the effects are no less detrimental to the health and mindset of the affected father. The symptoms exhibited differ from person to person, but are largely identical to those shown by mothers: a sense of being overwhelmed and isolated, perhaps a lack of concentration. Appetite is often affected, and time that is usually taken up with sleep is instead spent worrying. Some men find themselves continually lethargic, or with feelings of guilt about not being able to cope with a newborn – which often mutates into stifling feelings of inadequacy. The list of symptoms is comprehensive, and the research concluded that men are more likely to become hostile and aggressive in response to the symptoms they are experiencing as they struggle to come to terms with the radical life changes that they are going through.
While post natal depression can affect all fathers, there are some who are more at risk: studies showed that PND in men was most prevalent in first-time fathers, or those who were older than others. Men who have an unstable relationship with the baby’s mother are also more likely to suffer; and those whose partners have succumbed to PND are 3-7% more likely to demonstrate the effects of PND themselves.
What are the effects of pnd?
Post natal depression can leave the father feeling useless and overwhelmed, and as a result there is a risk that he can become very introvert and withdrawn. This not only impacts the health of the father, but also has a negative effect on the development of his baby, who relies upon regular stimulation and interaction from both parents in order to boost cognitive function.
In 2008, a study entitled ‘the Children of the 90s’ by the University of Bristol found that post natal depression in fathers can have long-lasting psychological effects on their children. Their findings have been released in two parts: the first, published in 2005, concluded that boys born to depressed fathers are twice as likely as their peers to develop behavioural problems by the age of three and a half.
The second half of this study elaborates on this, and suggests that these complications can continue into early adulthood. Paul Ramchandani, an Oxford University psychiatrist, is quoted in the results of the research as stating “conduct problems at this age are strongly predictive of later serious conduct problems, increased criminality and significantly increased societal costs.”
How can pnd be overcome?
There are a number of ways in which depression can be overcome – or, at the very least, managed to the extent that the effects are minimal. Health professionals encourage affected dads to not shy away from the problem, or assume that it is simply the result of a lack of sleep. They also, of course, warn against turning to drink or drugs as a way of alleviating the symptoms of PND; both mother and baby rely on the health of the father for development and support.
Instead, fathers who fear that they may be suffering from PND should speak to their GP or family health visitor, who can recommend the best action to take, whether it be a few counselling sessions or a course of antidepressants.
Approaching a health professional – or admitting that there is a problem in the first place – takes courage, especially as some fathers feel that doing so would in some way compromise their masculinity. However, it is the best thing to do, and fathers suffering from PND will find relief and support in being able to share their stories with others going through a similar situation.