When hearing the term “postpartum depression,” men do not typically come to mind. Instead, it is commonly associated with women who are stereotypically portrayed in TV and cinema as disheveled and crying uncontrollably. While postpartum depression (PPD) is a serious and common issue with women, men often experience it as well. In fact, paternal depression affects anywhere between 2% and 25% of men during their partner’s pregnancy or in the first year postpartum. Furthermore, this rate can jump to 50% if the mother is experiencing PPD.
What is postpartum depression and how can it be recognized? PPD is generally defined as an episode of major depressive disorder that occurs soon after a baby is born. This is not to be confused with “Daddy Blues,” which is a less severe form of depression. Blues symptoms are experienced by roughly one in four dads; however, unlike PPD, the Blues are typically eased by extra sleep, exercise and other enjoyable activities.
PPD symptoms tend to last and can persistently affect mental and physical health. Hormone fluctuation is a biological part of pregnancy and even expecting fathers may experience noticeable changes in their hormone levels. Men might see their testosterone levels decrease while estrogen, prolactin and cortisol increase. Symptoms, such as nausea and weight gain, could develop. Such hormone fluctuations before and after birth are tied to PPD.
Unfortunately, in large part due to stigma, there is no established criteria for treating PPD in men and it frequently goes undiagnosed and unaddressed. Men may present with symptoms such as irritability, restricted emotions and depression over the course of the first year. However, although these changes in mood and behavior are noticed, they might not be regarded as signs of depression. Common signs could include self-isolating from friends and family, feeling easily discouraged or frustrated and a loss of interest in work, hobbies or sex. More alarming indicators can include thoughts of death or suicide, abuse of substances, engaging in risky behaviors or behaving violently.
It is vitally important to seek help if you experience these symptoms. Available treatments may include talking with a mental health professional or support group. Being able to communicate feelings or express concerns and doubts in a safe space is a necessary part of recovery. Another way to ease symptoms is to get plenty of exercise and eat healthy. Trying to rest with a newborn can be difficult but taking advantage of small windows of time could be remarkably beneficial. It is also important to avoid alcohol, drugs and reckless behaviors, as abusing these substances may worsen the depression.
Many men may feel the need to stifle or suppress their feelings in order to align with what society deems proper. This can make seeking help understandably difficult; however, getting the help you need is essential for you and your child. Studies have found an increased risk of long-term adverse behavioral and emotional outcomes in children associated with paternal PPD.
For more information, please see the accompanying resource created by Larson Mental Health, a psychiatric nurse practitioner.