About 1 in 7 women develop postpartum depression (PPD) after giving birth. In a press release this summer announcing the approval of Zurzuvae, the first oral drug designed to treat PPD in women, Dr. Tiffany Farcione, director of the division of psychiatry at the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, described it as “potentially a life-threatening condition in which women experience sadness, guilt, worthlessness, even, in severe cases, thoughts of harming themselves or their child”.
Postpartum depression has also been reported among adoptive parents and other non-birth parents, including fathers. Here’s what new research says about how PPD can affect men and what it’s like to deal with it as a dad.
What the new research says
In September, the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth published a pilot study conducted at the University of Illinois-Chicago focusing on postpartum depression in men, which previous studies estimated affects 8% to 13% of new fathers. Of the 24 fathers who were tested for postpartum depression for this new study, 30% were determined to have it. The results suggest not only the need to invest in additional research, but also the importance of asking fathers how they are doing after the baby.
While awareness of postpartum depression in women has increased, little attention has been paid to men. Unique social forces shape PPD in dads. As a society, women are generally taught to be natural mothers, but the stereotypes of fathers in the media are the absent father or the awkward dad, says psychologist Daniel Singley, founder of the Center for Male Excellence. In that sense, it’s different for dad than for mom. If dad feels like a crappy parent who doesn’t know what he’s doing, it’s compounded by this socialization that says men aren’t good at parenting babies.
Due to a lack of screening and a general lack of awareness, postpartum depression in men often goes undiagnosed. For fathers, depressive symptoms tend to peak around four to five months after giving birth, Singley says. And for this reason, many men will not associate what they experience with childbirth and postpartum depression.
How can fathers struggling with postpartum depression get support? And what does postpartum depression look like in men? Here’s how these fathers experienced it:
‘I started withdrawing from everyone.’
Jim S., a father from Orville, Ohio, celebrated his son’s arrival by cutting the umbilical cord, crying and hugging his family. It was one of the best moments of his life. But after a while everyone left and mom and baby were sleeping and it just hit me hard,” he says. “Not being the same couple made me terribly sad.” I started crying and went to the bathroom, closed the door and started sobbing. They weren’t happy tears this time, they were sad.
The 32-year-old’s grief began that night in the bathroom, but lasted for months. It was supposed to be the happiest time of my life, but I started withdrawing from everyone, including my wife and son. I would go get things for my wife, but I wouldn’t really hold my son or feed him.
It took him about three months to seek help. “I finally had enough and went to the doctor,” says Jim, who asked not to share his last name. I couldn’t do it anymore. Neither does my wife. He credits her with supporting him and encouraging him to take action after she noticed changes in his behavior.
“I don’t know how she got it, but she mentioned that men get postpartum depression and I didn’t believe her at first,” he says. His family doctor put him on medication, but he regrets not seeing a therapist. , i [that] mental health in general is of great importance.
‘I remember crying in the car after work one day.’
Joel Gratzik, a father in suburban Chicago, noticed symptoms a few months after the birth of his first child. He experienced loss of appetite, irritability and difficulty focusing. It was a strain on my job at the time and they weren’t very understanding about me having a child,” he tells Yahoo Life. “I remember crying in the car one day after work. My wife was on a trip and I had a child with me, and I was overwhelmed and felt helpless. I could pull myself together, come home and make it through the night. That’s when I knew I needed help.
The 42-year-old dad saw a doctor and received medication, which he says helped “with emotional regulation, sleep and eating.” He later saw a therapist to learn cognitive reframing techniques.
Gracik says there is a stigma attached to experiencing postpartum depression as a man. He compares it to what men can experience who have migraines, which are three times more common in women but affect men as well. It is explained as a woman’s issue, he explains. And that is simply not the case for either. Postpartum depression and migraines affect both sexes.
After Gratziks second child was born, he was able to lead his daily life better. Luckily, it wasn’t nearly as big of a deal after the second one, because I had a set of tools for everything I could handle,” he says.
“We almost broke up because of the trouble it caused.”
Dale VanVlerach, a dad from Sycamore, Ill., noticed soon after the birth of his first child that something was wrong. I was sad all the time and would cry at the thought of leaving the baby,” says VanVlerach. “My anxiety was through the roof and I was constantly afraid that something was going to happen.”
Both VanVlerach and his wife, who now have three children, both suffered from postpartum depression. “My wife had worse symptoms than I did, especially with our first,” he says. “She got to the point where she couldn’t work overnight anymore because it just got too much. A combination of postpartum depression and VanVlerach’s retail schedule caused friction in their marriage. We almost broke up because of the problems it caused,” he says. “I came into work crying and had to pull myself together so I wouldn’t alarm the customers. It was around this time that I hit a wall at work. Luckily I hit a peg and didn’t put a hole in the wall, although I thought I had broken my arm.
It took about six months after the birth of his first child for VanVlerach to feel better and about four months with his second child. Looking back, he wishes he had sought support sooner, including medication. The therapy, he says, was particularly beneficial. “It’s nice to be able to talk to someone who has boys around the same age as my youngest and knows what it’s like on a day-to-day basis,” he says.
How to get help
Treatment for postpartum depression in men can benefit not only fathers, but also their spouses and children. But many men do not receive treatment from mental health professionals because of the stigma attached to it. If left untreated, we know that postpartum mood disorders often worsen, says Will Courtenay, a psychologist in Oakland, Calif., and author of Dying to Be Men. And they can have harmful, long-term consequences for the man, his marriage and the whole family.
Since depression often manifests itself differently in men and women, it is important to pay attention to the symptoms. According to Singley, “the four main symptoms of masked male depression include irritability (ranging from frustration to anger), a tendency to somatize (depression that manifests in physical symptoms such as stomach or back pain), an increase in coping behaviors (drinking, drugs, gambling, gaming, etc.) and social withdrawal.
For new fathers, it is helpful to know the risk factors that increase the likelihood of experiencing postpartum depression. Many of the risk factors for postpartum depression in women also predispose men to postpartum depression, says Sarah Allen, a psychotherapist who specializes in working with new parents and founding director of the Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois.
Lack of sleep is one risk factor that’s especially common when you have a baby, and depression and sleep problems go hand in hand, Allen tells Yahoo Life. Other risk factors include financial stress, relationship stress, lack of emotional support, drug and alcohol abuse, parenting a child with special needs, and a family history of depression.
Despite the fact that dads take on postpartum depression, they can fully recover from it and thrive if given the right care and guidance. Your average guy thinks they have to fill it up and move on, Singley says, and that’s a mistake. Do not isolate yourself. Don’t keep it to yourself. Talk to a trusted colleague or friend. Talk to other fathers or a father figure.
Both Singley and Allen recommend Postpartum Support International (PSI) as a resource dads can use for support. The organization offers a helpline and provides opportunities for fathers to join support groups, talk to fatherhood experts and connect with local volunteers.
Helping men with postpartum depression also involves expanding understanding of the man’s role in family life and a broader consideration of his emotional life. Men are socialized to protect, provide and sacrifice, and that’s noble,” Singley says. “The problem is when men decide that’s all they’re going to do. A person will be much healthier if in some situations they protect, provide and sacrifice themselves, and in other situations they allow others to protect them.
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