What are the causes and what can be done about postpartum depression in dads?
It is estimated that around one in ten fathers have experienced postpartum depression (PPD). While one in three new fathers are concerned about their mental health.
Fathers with depression are less likely to display positive behaviours such as warmth, sensitivity and responsiveness, whilst exhibiting negative behaviours that include hostility and disengagement.
What are the causes?
While there is no single explanation as to why some new dads are affected by depression, depression is generally triggered by emotional or stressful situations. Being a parent is challenging, the pressures of fatherhood, increased financial responsibility and lifestyle changes along with less sleep can impact wellbeing.
One factor that may have an impact on fathers suffering from depression is a strained relationship with their partner, generally occurring during pregnancy, due to parental commitments preventing them doing other activities. In addition, some fathers may feel they are ‘second best’ to their partner. Other influencing factors may include age and income. Because of this, younger or poorer dads may be at a higher risk of depression.
An individual can also be more vulnerable if they have a family history of depression or have previously had depressive episodes. There also is a link between a dad experiencing depression if his partner is also suffering.
The main symptoms
The symptoms of PPD among dads can be similar to those of mothers, such as feeling low or despondent, feelings of hopelessness, a sense of inadequacy or inability to cope. Also, wanting to cry or crying a lot, a loss of appetite and being unable to eat even if they are hungry. Some may have trouble sleeping either by struggling to fall asleep or having restless nights and vivid nightmares. Others may exhibit hostility or indifference to their partner or baby, or experience panic attacks and anxiety. There could be difficulty in concentrating, headaches, obsessive fears about the baby’s health or thoughts of self-harm and even death.
How long do these symptoms tend to last?
According to the DSM-IV and ICD-10 diagnostic systems, the timeframe for diagnosis varies from four to six weeks after birth. Depression, anxiety or other mood problems can occur anytime during the first year of your child’s life. Symptoms tend to be persistent and potentially take over your ability to properly function. Symptoms can last for a long period of time if they are left untreated and unrecognised.
What should you do?
Men can sometimes feel uncomfortable about opening up about their feelings. But it is important that you seek the support you need and talk to the people you trust, whether this be family, friends or a health professional.
Professional treatment options include counselling and therapy, medication and cognitive behavioural therapy. One such other treatment to relieve the symptoms of paternal PPD is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). TMS is a NICE (2015) approved treatment for depression that modulates brain activity, leading to a reduction in symptoms.
You should try and take some time for yourself by maintaining involvement in hobbies, exercise and socialising. Even a little time out can make a big difference. It may also help to meet other dads who have experienced these issues. But avoid negative coping strategies such as drinking and staying away from home.
Chloe Ward is Technician for Smart TMS, the UK’s leading mental health clinic specialising in transcranial magnetic stimulation.