Sometimes, it is easy to forget that dads may be overwhelmed by the implications of becoming a father. We often think that women are the ones who are prone to developing postnatal (or postpartum) depression. Despite this mistaken belief, men are just as likely to suffer from postnatal depression as moms. This mental health problem is triggered by sleepless nights and the obligations of parenthood — which can be nerve-wrecking for dads too.
Dads are just as likely to develop depression as moms
An Australian study has found that 9.7% of the men observed in this study suffered from postnatal depression in the first year of their child’s life compared to 9.4 % of mothers. The findings of this study are published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.
The study found that fathers under the age of 30 were more prone to developing depression. These men faced a 40 per cent increased chance of becoming depressed. The study analysed the mental health of fathers as their children moved from three different age groups, 3 to 12 months, 2 to 3 years and 4 to 5 years old.
Leaders of the study said that the results suggest that the wellbeing of fathers should be assessed regularly in the postnatal period through mental health interventions and support during early years of their child’s life. During this stage, fathers may develop mental health problems as they face the responsibilities of parenthood.
“As the birth of a baby can result in profound changes to lifestyle and recreation, sleep patterns, couple relationships and identity, it is not surprising that adjustment difficulties may arise for fathers at this time,” authors of the study mentioned.
Jan Nicholson, co-author of the study from the Parenting Research Centre in Melbourne, said that fathers are also vulnerable to depression because of sleep deprivation and managing roles and responsibilities. He said that postnatal depression should be detected early in fathers who are at risk. Professor Nicholson echoed that responding early is vital, as mental health issues become more difficult to treat if prolonged. The study suggests that health professions should extend their attention to fathers with regard to mental health problems.
“It is recommended that routine screening for mental health difficulties also be extended to fathers in the postnatal period, and the capacity of practitioners working in early parenting settings strengthened to respond to the specific needs of fathers,” said the study.
“This may include public health messages about father wellbeing to normalise and promote help-seeking during this time of significant adjustment,” the study’s authors added.
Normalising and promoting help-seeking for fathers at risk of postnatal depression may help alleviate the belief that it is mostly developed by women. This study suggests that men are just as likely to suffer from postnatal depression as women. Men at risk should seek professional help as quickly as possible, as the condition becomes increasingly difficult to treat. In cases of severe postnatal depression, these dads may actually be passing it onto their children.
Dads can pass their depression onto their children
In another study, researchers at Oxford University said that men who severely suffer from this condition may actually be passing it onto their children. This study was published in the journal Psychological Medicine.
According to the Oxford study, these fathers communicate less and play less with their babies. This lack of interaction between father and baby in the first few months of life is said to encourage behavioural problems for the child.
The Oxford study looked at 19 fathers with postnatal depression and 19 without it. When the study was conducted, their babies were 3 months old. For three minutes, fathers were filmed interacting with their babies. It was found that depressed dads were more self-conscious. According to previous studies, children whose fathers were depressed were more likely to develop tantrums or become a menace at school.
“Although dads don’t have all the same hormonal changes as mothers do, they do often experience dramatic changes to their life,” said Dr Paul Ramchandani from Oxford’s Psychiatry Department.
“This can be a positive thing for many dads, but for some, the combination of sleep deprivation, additional pressures of responsibility of caring for a new baby, and sometimes then being the sole breadwinner, for a while at least, can bring additional stress,” he added.
Dr Ramchandani said that the most important issue is that depressed dads spoke less to their children. These dads were more concerned about themselves than their children. These dads were found to be more negative than dads who were not depressed. As this study suggests, depressed dads do harm to not only themselves but their loved ones. This is why it is important for dads to not disregard the signs of depression.
Signs of depression
Because of male characteristics, men are more prone to hiding their feelings. The underlying signs pertaining to postnatal depression in men are similar to women. These signs include, despondency, loss of interest in pleasurable hobbies, suicidal thoughts or feeling a sense of hopelessness. Nevertheless, these signs may not be obvious.
A few signs of postnatal depression in men include:
- Isolation from loved ones
- Frustration or annoyance
- Increased consumption of drugs or alcohol
- Impulsivity — Men may express their depression in the form of gambling, taking long vacations, having an affair, or going on spending sprees
- Feeling unmotivated or unable to concentrate
- Feeling worthless — Struggles between how he perceives himself compared to how he wants to be perceived as man or father.
Postnatal depression is a condition as common to men as it is for women. This mental condition may have a negative effect on children too. This is because on the one-sided interaction between fathers and their children. This means that it is important not to ignore the signs if you think you may be at risk.
Early treatment is strongly advised, as the condition becomes more difficult to treat if it becomes severe. Unlike women, the signs in men won’t necessarily include tears. The signs in men may take the form of impulsivity, violence or increased consumption of drugs and alcohol.
Depressed men will not necessarily have all the symptoms but may experience only a few. Early detection and response is vital in order to promote positive behaviour in children, help dad recover as well as maintain a healthy relationship between parents.