Postpartum Depression is Real for Fathers, Too
Traditionally, postpartum depression among women was thought to be primarily due to hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and childbirth, but new studies suggest that it is not just mom who gets the “baby blues.” New fathers are also at risk for depression after childbirth.
Researchers performed an analysis of 43 studies that involved over 28,000 new fathers. About 10% of men whose partners who are pregnant or have recently given birth report symptoms of depression. This is about twice the usual rate of depression in men. The peak period for paternal postpartum depression is when the baby is 3 to 6 months old, according to the study published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. About 25% of fathers reported depression during this time.
Further research suggests Dad's depression may express itself differently than Mom's. Men are more likely to be irritable, angry, or withdrawn instead of the sadness that is typically seen with female depression. Family members should look for these behaviors as "red flags," the authors write.
Research authors Gregory Simon, a psychiatrist with Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, and James Paulson of the Eastern Virginia Medical School say they still need more research to determine the cause. The most likely reason is the onset of stress that occurs with any major life change. Paulson says, “Going from being a single person to a parent is a real shock, and certainly both parents trying to cope with a big change in life can be stressful.”
Other factors that may play roles in the increase in depression symptoms include financial stress, relationship changes between partners, and sleep deprivation. Behavioral changes in the child also occur during this period, such as crying or being more demanding for attention. Paulson also speculates that the timing of the depression correlates with the ending of maternity leave, which is typically between 6 weeks and 3 months after childbirth.
While many fathers may try to ignore the signs of depression, the authors warn against it. Depression from either parent can have a “cascading effect “ throughout the entire family. "There's evidence growing that depression in fathers is negative for children, and increases the risk of emotional and behavioral problems," says Paulson. Women are also more likely to become depressed when the male shows symptoms.
He encourages new fathers who are experiencing depression to seek support, either from family and friends or through formal measures such as therapy or group counseling.