Science is starting to change the conversation surrounding postpartum depression in fathers, and experts are getting a more thorough picture of how truly devastating the mental health condition can be for men. But there’s still a long way to go.
It’s expected that after the rush of emotions during and after pregnancy that many women will experience “baby blues,” a mild form of sadness that appears within the first few days after delivery and can last up to two weeks, according to the Mayo Clinic. Postpartum depression is a much more severe, long-lasting form of this sadness, and is often regarded as something more common in women. In fact, when a recent reality television star, Adam Busby of “OutDaughtered” spoke about his experience with postpartum depression, some people didn’t take kindly to his confession, telling him to “man up.”
That stigma for dads is all too common, said Will Courtenay, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of SadDaddy.com.
“It’s easy for men to feel shame when they feel depressed,” he told HuffPost. “There’s a myth in this country that men just don’t get depressed and that myth is powerful.”
But Courtenay, along with other health experts, are hopeful that research regarding men and the medical condition will bring more awareness to the issue ― and acceptance, as well.
What We Know
According to Courtenay, studies show there’s a link between lowering of testosterone levels in men following a wife’s pregnancy and the appearance of postpartum depression. He said about 14 percent of new dads will experience the condition.
There is also a marked difference between the sexes in when the illness can occur. Mothers usually will experience postpartum depression for up to four months after their pregnancy, but symptoms in men usually appear nearly three to six months after the birth of their child.
Dr. Pierre Azzam, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said symptoms of postpartum depression in men can include changes in sleep patterns, interest, concentration and appetite.
“For dads there tends to be a more insidious, slower presentation of changes to their personality,” he said. “Dads are likely to start becoming more withdrawn, and experiencing things like difficulty making decisions, irritability, agitation and self criticism.”
Typically, postpartum depression in men is caused by a lack of sleep due to the new baby’s birth or if there’s a history of depression or mental illness in their family, according to Melissa Gill, a behavioral health consultant for Community Health Network in Indiana.
Postpartum depression in dads can also stem from the pregnancy being unplanned, a father’s reaction to the child’s gender, taking care of a sick or colicky baby, or simply the stress of taking care of a new member in the family. But Courtenay said there’s also a hormonal component.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on with men following the birth of a child that people don’t realize.”
Surprising new research indicates men can experience a drop in testosterone and an increase in estrogen nearly three to six months after a child is born. These changes, along with lack of sleep or other factors, can create a “perfect storm” and cause many cases of postpartum depression, Courtenay said.
“We often associate hormonal changes with pregnant women or nursing moms, but these crazy hormonal changes are happening in men as well,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on with men following the birth of a child that people don’t realize.”
Experts also say that if a mother begins to experience postpartum depression symptoms, it’s likely her partner will as well.
“We do know that postpartum in moms is a big risk factor for dads developing postpartum,” Azzam said.
It’s important to note that parents bringing a new baby home will experience some form of an adjustment period, Gill said. That period can occasionally be a significant amount of time, but if it’s six or eight weeks later and dad is still experiencing irritability or other signs of depression, then help from a trusted medical professional should be sought.
The research on postpartum depression is promising, Azzam said, though he added that there’s not nearly as much information about the condition in dads as there is with moms. More work needs to be done on this front, he said.
Often times, postpartum depression in men can grow significantly worse because men feel they have to go it alone, Courtenay said. But all of the negative consequences of postpartum depression are preventable or avoidable with help and treatment, he said.
Leaning on loved ones or even just asking for support can also make a huge difference, Gill added.
“Men often have a fear of saying anything.”
“Men often have a fear of saying anything,” Gill said. “They want to be supportive and provide for their family and fear the reaction if they do speak up. But men should know this is their season to ask for help, and to understand they aren’t the same person they were before they had children and it’s important not to isolate.”
Numerous resources and treatment avenues are available for fathers and their partners, including podcasts and books along with mental health professionals. Overall, one of the best things a new father can do for himself is to know that ― despite whatever stigma about postpartum depression in men may exist ― he’s not alone.
“It’s easy for men to think that they shouldn’t get depressed or try to ignore the symptoms and push it away, but it’s critical for partners and others to step in and provide support,” Courtenay said. “It’s never easy to accept that a partner is depressed, but men really need to know from their wives or their partner that they won’t be ridiculed, shamed or rejected for coming forward with this.”