Male Postpartum Depression: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Did you know that postpartum mood disorders are not just limited to mothers? As we continue discussing postpartum mood disorders (see our previous posts about this subject for more information), we turn our eye toward ways fathers can be affected after the birth of their children.

I first learned about this issue in reading about birth trauma. We know that women can experience feelings of trauma after their delivery, especially if they were not treated in a way they felt heard. The Childbirth Connection’s New Mothers Speak Out Survey in 2006 found that 18% of mothers displayed some symptoms of PTSD after childbirth, while 9% of mothers experienced all the symptoms.

A father wrote on the Birth Without Fear blog a powerful, moving account of his experiences during his wife’s second delivery, experiences that left him feeling helpless and frightened. He describes how stress and lack of sleep left him with immobilizing back spasms. He experienced the arrival of his children recalling, “disappointments, the frustration, the anger, the heartache, the pain, the stress, and fear.”

From this dad’s perspective, the way in which his wife was handled/spoken to/not spoken to in her most fragile state affected his feelings about having more children, about trusting care providers. His story led me to investigate further about the affects childbirth can have on fathers.

One great resource, Postpartum Men, describes how fathers experience Paternal Postnatal Depression.

According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, up to 14.1 percent of new dads in the U.S. have postpartum depression!

Half of these men have partners who are also experiencing depression. According to the site, men experience hormonal shifts when they become fathers and this can set the stage for depression. Postpartum Men includes an assessment so men can help to gauge whether they are experiencing symptoms of PPND.

Similar to the test women often get at their postpartum checkups, the assessment asks about laughter and enjoyment (or lack thereof), placing blame upon oneself, feelings of fear or panic, feeling overwhelmed, difficulty sleeping–even when the opportunity presents itself, etc.

The site is managed by Dr. Will Courtenay, a psychotherapist based in the Bay Area of California. Dr. Courtenay specializes in treating men suffering from PPND and writes, “Having no visible examples in our culture of men like this, a father with postpartum depression usually suffers in isolation – sure that he’s the only one.”

His goal matches ours in writing this series: to educate people about these very real, debilitating conditions affecting young families and to assure people that (as with any illness) help is available.

Men can seek out a local psychologist or psychotherapist who specializes in treating men with depression. If men are interested in medication, often a psychologist works with a psychiatrist–psychiatrists are the only practitioners authorized to prescribe medication.

Postpartum Support International also features weekly “Chats for Men,” that are facilitated by a psychiatrist or psychologist. These chats can help support the entire family, since as we saw above, often both parents can be affected by postpartum depression.

Preemptively, Dr. Courtenay suggests that expectant couples seek counseling if they have underlying problems with their relationship–these stressors can magnify once a baby arrives. Plus, having a trusted counselor beforehand can be a great resource if parents do notice symptoms of depression.

Additionally, Courtenay recommends locating new parent support groups, establishing a support network, and even taking “new father” classes to learn more about the skills needed for active caretakers of newborns–this can help relieve anxiety before the baby arrives.

Did your partner experience symptoms of Paternal Postnatal Depression? Leave us a comment to share how your family got help.

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