New evidence suggests that postpartum depression is no longer just a condition experienced by new mothers. It may also affect new fathers in much the same way. Postpartum depression in new fathers is a relatively new concept, perhaps coming to light thanks to a growing acceptance of the full range of emotional experience that men are capable of.
Society as a whole has traditionally embraced the idea of the strong male figure with a narrow emotional range. Men now have increasing freedom to admit their feelings on a wide range of issues, including those that our own fathers and grandfathers wouldn’t have dared discuss with others, including men’s postpartum depression.
Paternal postnatal depression in not a new phenomenon, although awareness of it is. More light has been shed on this in recent times thanks to increasing social acceptance of men’s emotions. Similar to the feelings that new mothers so often go experience following birth, men’s postpartum depression can strongly affect the entire family. In a recent interview on “The Mommy-Muse Is In: Empowering Your Journey into Motherhood,” men’s health specialist Dr. Will Courtney shared this: “So often, mothers and fathers expect this experience of “baby bliss” that everyone suggests parenting is going to be like. Then, suddenly, this screaming, helpless infant is in their laps and they don’t know what to do to calm this baby or soothe it. Suddenly, things start feeling a lot more difficult than they ever expected.”
Parenthood is a profound event – whether experienced from the male or female point of view. The transition from being a couple to being a family can be an enormous challenge. Although the majority of men report a deep satisfaction with being a father, they do report that the transition from being “just a man” to being a dad is a frustrating, scary, daunting experience that requires massive adjustment. Men’s postpartum depression can become quite severe, requiring mental health counseling from a qualified practitioner who understands the trials of new fatherhood and knows how to help.
Men typically are well-skilled at concealing their postpartum depression. They may, or may not, show any of the traditional signs that a new mother does, such as loss of interest, crying, and general sadness. Although a new father may attempt to “keep up appearances,” the best clue that he might have an underlying problem is found by being alert to things that appear to be “just not right” in regards to his normal behaviors.
According to Dr. Courtney, men may try to avoid parenting and new fatherhood altogether, a sort of “out of sight out of mind” mentality. “I’m hearing a lot from new dads about the experience of not being able to tolerate being around the baby. They can’t stand the baby’s cries, the screaming; they say it makes them crazy. Or, they can’t stand to smell the baby, or to even see it or hold it. Typically, men feel horribly guilty about feeling that way, and also very confused because this is not what they were told to expect with the birth of their child. All they really know to do is to try to get away from the thing that is kind of making them feel all of these things. They end up spending as much time as they can at the office.”
New parents can take steps before the birth of their new baby (or even after the birth if they sense a problem) to better cope with postpartum depression. Here are some steps that you can take: Accept that postpartum depression is real in both men and women. If a man has a history of depression, beginning mental health counseling before the baby’s birth is a great preventive measure. For couples with poor communication or strife in the relationship, couples counseling during and after the pregnancy can help offset depression by opening up the lines of communication between both partners. Economic problems should be faced head-on with the creation of a livable budget to alleviate the financial stress on the couple. Social support for both mom and dad is important. Decide who you can rely on if you need a sitter, etc.
New mothers and fathers must understand that postpartum depression is a completely natural condition that should be treated, not hidden. There is no shame in being depressed after the birth of a baby, especially considering that millions of parents experience some type of postpartum mood disorder each year. Seeking out treatment for the condition is an admission of being a parent who is willing to do whatever it takes to be the best parent and partner possible.