The New Daddy Blues
Welcoming a new baby into the world is supposed to be one of the happiest times of our lives. But for certain women, all those changes coming at once can bring on symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s known as the “baby blues.” The more-serious version of it is postpartum depression. Now, studies have shown that women aren’t alone—some men are susceptible, as well.
A recent study shows that paternal postnatal depression (PPND) affects 5-10% of new fathers. That’s only about 5% less than the depression rates for new moms, according to figures published online by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“When a baby arrives, it’s a huge change to the family,” said Diane Kay-Daigle, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) at Mount Desert Island Hospital. “It’s a world-shaker for the mom and the dad.”
According to Kay-Daigle, when a mom or dad has the “baby blues,” they may have depressed thoughts but are still able to carry on with their daily activities. These feelings typically occur shortly after birth but generally balance themselves out by the end of the two-month mark.
The signs and symptoms of postpartum depression are more intense and can include severe mood swings, difficulty in bonding with your baby, severe anxiety and panic attacks or even thoughts of suicide. They can also last longer, up to a year after a baby is born.
“A lot of men and women just feel like this is supposed to be a difficult time, so we’re just going to kind of muddle our way through it,” Kay-Daigle explained. “Also, if a mom has depression, the dad has to take on a lot of the responsibilities and that can take a toll on their mental health.”
A dramatic drop in hormones after childbirth is often a catalyst for postpartum depression in women.
For men, environmental factors are the primary trigger for perinatal depression, which includes the pregnancy.
“These are significant life changes,” said Dr. David Prescott, a clinical psychologist and the director of healthcare studies at Husson University. “Increased stress, disruption in sleep, and disruption in normal ways of coping with stress all play a role.”
Additionally, said Prescott, there are factors that can put new fathers at an even greater risk of postpartum depression. Those include living apart from the baby and mother, having a child with behavioral problems, or becoming a father at a young age.
In fact, research shows those first few years of parenthood may actually be the riskiest for young dads in particular. According to one study, the symptoms of depression increased on average by 68% during the first five years of fatherhood for men who were around 25 years old, when they became fathers and lived with their children.
So why aren’t we hearing more about PPND?
“I think a lot of times, dads get overlooked,” said Kay-Daigle. “When mothers go to their well-baby checks and their postpartum doctor’s appointments, their providers are screening for depression. Dads don’t have that kind of contact with a provider after delivery so it’s not necessarily on anyone’s radar.”
“I think many fathers may be in denial,” said Prescott. “Or in some cases, dads feel like there are so many demands on them and their partners that they don’t want to ‘complain’ about their mood.”
PPND symptoms can also be mistaken or misconstrued. “Irritability and anger can be symptoms of depression,” said Kay-Daigle. “Having less of a threshold for anger outbursts or frustration tolerances can be something we see more in men than women.”
“Cultural norms such as ‘men don’t cry’ or ‘men shouldn’t be allowed to show their emotion’ will impact how symptoms of depression play out,” added Prescott. “All of us, men and women, have to learn to recognize when we are depressed. We have to learn to think about depression as a problem that benefits from professional diagnosis and treatment and that it’s not something that you have to learn to live with.”
And unlike the baby blues, postpartum depression can develop up to a year after a baby is born. “For instance, when a mom returns to work at 12 weeks, that can add additional stressors,” said Kay-Daigle. “It’s really something to be aware of, not just in the first six to eight week range.”
“There’s a huge stigma in our culture towards seeking help for mental health,” she added. “People would be feeling better, sooner, if they were addressing their mental health. If you had a physical health symptom that wasn’t going away, you would go to see your provider. It should be the same with mental health.”