A friend recently asked me whether it was possible for men to get postnatal depression, to which I replied ‘Absolutely.’ She was referring to her husband’s depressive feelings which seemed to appear following the birth of their second baby. I thought it was an interesting topic to discuss on today’s post as this yet another aspect of postnatal parenthood which is rarely discussed. It is estimated that 21% of fathers will experience a depressive episode following the birth of a baby, with the highest risk occurring in the first year.
Symptoms for postnatal depression in men may include:
- Irritable, aggressive and occasionally hostile
- Poor concentration
- Decrease or increase in appetite
- Excessive worrying
- Lack of sleep or constantly feeling tired
- Unable to enjoy the activities which you did previously
- Feeling anxious
But isn’t postnatal depression caused by hormones and things specific to women? Not so. Certainly whilst research has focused primarily on PND in women, many of the potential causes and contributors to PND could equally apply to men.
The huge adjustment of becoming a parent has the potential to ‘de-rail’ both mums and dads. Suddenly there is a helpless baby to care for and life can feel incredibly restrictive, uncertain, out of control, monotonous and stressful. Oftentimes our expectations of parenthood are tested by the realities of everyday life with an infant and this can cause overwhelm, anxiety and depressive feelings.
Similarly, men as well as women can suffer the same sleep deprivation which accompanies the arrival of a newborn, and it has been well established that even modest sleep deprivation over a short period of time can contribute significantly to psychological distress. For men, the effect of this can also be compounded by commitments at work and expectations of performance. Many men feel enormous responsibility to provide following the expansion of their family and this can be a considerable source of stress and overwhelm. Oftentimes because of this, many men find it difficult to talk about their feelings so they bottle them up.
In my own research which looked at the impact of childhood experiences on difficult postnatal adjustments, I found that the arrival of a baby could ignite difficult feelings from the mother’s childhood and cause a depressive or anxious episode in the postnatal period. Although outside the scope of this particular research, my experience as a therapist tells me that of course the same could be true for men. Here we are talking about our experiences of being parented, our feelings towards our own mothers and fathers, conditioned behaviours, and repressed feelings and memories.
There could be many reasons why a father would have a depressive episode following the birth of his baby, it is important to recognise what is happening and to get appropriate support.
If postnatal depression or difficult feelings in becoming a father are a problem for you, therapy may help. Call for an appointment at my Wimbledon counselling practise 0796 9501 888.
For additional information on postnatal depression in men, see www.pandasfoundation.org.uk/help-and-information/pre-ante-and-postnatal-illnesses/dad’s-and-depression
Karren, K.J., Smith, N.L., Hafen, B.Q., Jenkins, K.J. (Eds.), (2010). Mind Body Health. San Fransisco, CA: Pearson Education Inc.
Kinnaird Folkman, A. (2012). When Daughters Become Mothers: A transpersonal understanding of difficult postnatal feelings [Unpublished manuscript]. Retrieved from: http://livingtherapycounselling.com/Library