The discussion around postpartum depression has always focused on women, but studies have shown that men can also suffer from the mood disorder and its effects can just as easily extend to their babies.
In 2010, JAMA conducted a meta-analysis of 43 studies on depression in fathers from the first trimester to one year after the birth of their child. Researchers found that overall 10 per cent of men suffered from prenatal and postpartum depression, and it spiked to 25 per cent between three and six months after the birth of their child.
“At this stage, the newness of the baby sets in, as does the reality of the routine, and it involves being up in the middle of the night and trying to go about your life during the day, which is a big change to your lifestyle,” Lynn Erdman, CEO of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) in Washington, D.C., said to Global News. “We have found the sooner the dad bonds, the lower the occurrence of postpartum depression.”
The symptoms are the same as those ascribed to women — sadness, hopelessness, irritability, anxiety — and if they persist, they could impact the child’s development. AWHONN conducted a study that found the longer fathers delay bonding with their newborn, the more they risk compromising involvement throughout childhood and adolescence.
“If you haven’t made the bond early on, it gets harder as the child gets older,” Erdman says.
There is some evidence that suggests postpartum depression in men is hormonal, as they experience a similar shift to women, says Melissa Goldband, registered social worker at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. But there are also social factors at play.
“Women have nine months during the course of their pregnancy to mentally prepare for the birth of their child, and talk it over with their physician or midwife. But dads are largely left out of the conversation until the baby arrives,” she says. “They come at it with less time to prepare and less knowledge of how it will impact their lives.”
She says the relatively new expectation that men take a hands-on role in parenting, even of a newborn, could also be what sends some men in a tailspin.
“Their own fathers may not have been expected to take part in child care. They don’t have the same role models in their lives as many women do,” she says.
What’s worse, there is still such a stigma attached to men and mental health, that many either don’t recognize the signs of depression or they’re not willing to seek help.
Goldband says the first step in preventing postpartum depression in men is to include them in the initial conversations around pregnancy and the baby.
“There’s a lot of focus on moms during pregnancy, but when dads show up for the prenatal visit, the doctor should check in with him to see how he’s doing and let him know what to expect,” she said. “The conversation needs to start earlier.”
Mothers can help, too, Erdman says, by keeping an eye out for symptoms and encouraging fathers to bond early on.
“Getting used to a newborn is hard, so encouragement of what he’s doing or how he’s helping builds confidence and incites the bonding process,” she said. “Have him do a nighttime feeding, change diapers or handle bath time. Holding the baby is extremely important.”
Of course, when it comes to something as serious as postpartum depression, it can take more than words of encouragement to feel balanced and mentally healthy.
“Allow for some time to transition to postpartum [life], but I tell my clients if you feel symptoms of sadness or depression for more than two to three weeks, seek help — especially if they have a history of depression,” Goldband says. “Whether it’s therapy or medication, or simply asking for help from family and friends, it can be resolved.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.