Yes. Dads do experience postnatal depression. In fact, dads also experience prenatal anxiety and/or depression (anxiety and depression during the period of pregnancy), and postnatal anxiety (after the birth of baby). Most of us know that depression and anxiety can affect women during pregnancy and parenthood, but the experiences of men during this time of their lives isn’t often spoken about. And the statistics are staggering
1 in 6 men experience prenatal anxiety.
1 in 20 men experience prenatal depression.
1 in 5 experience anxiety during the postnatal period.
1 in 10 new dads struggle with postnatal depression.
45% of dads are not aware that men can experience postnatal depression.
And 43% of first time dads see anxiety and depression after having a baby as a sign of weakness.
It’s time to shed some light on anxiety and depression in dads so that they can get the support they need to be happy and fulfilled as fathers, as partners, and as human beings.
What does depression look and feel like for Dads?
Anxiety and depression can look differently for each expecting and new dad, though some of the more commonly noted symptoms can include physical signs, changes in emotions and mood, changes in thinking and behavioural changes:
- lack of appetite
- trouble sleeping, or sleeping and waking at unusual times
- weight loss or gain.
Changes in emotions and mood:
- guilt or shame
- cranky, anxious and angry
- isolated or disconnected from your partner, friends or family
- unable to enjoy things you used to find fun or pleasurable.
- fearful of your ability to take care of your baby
Changes in thinking:
- be unable to concentrate or remember things
- have trouble making decisions or doing everyday tasks
- have thoughts of being overwhelmed, out of control or like you can’t cope
- think about death or suicide.
Changes in behaviour:
- not be interested in sex
- avoiding doing things with/for your baby
- avoiding activities related to the pregnancy or baby, for example, appointments and ultrasounds.
- withdraw from your family or want to spend more time at work
- use drugs or alcohol as a way of handling the depression.
What causes it?
As with any anxiety and depression, there’s a range of physical, social and emotional factors that can contribute to this experience for dads:
- a lack of social and emotional support for dad, particularly after the birth of a baby. We work consciously to provide this support for mothers, but dads are often overlooked.
- stress and changes in relationships. The addition of a third person into the relationship that takes the majority of attention leads to a shift in focus for mum and dad, so their relationship may become strained.
- fears related to the unknown of pregnancy, birth and beyond, without having someone to share these with
- a lack of sleep
- loss and grief issues. Loss of identity, grief for the life that you had before baby arrived, grief for your relationship.
- difficulty adjusting to parenthood
- juggling and meeting expectations. Juggling parenthood, work and relationships. Expectations to be a perfect father, partner, provider.
- a negative or traumatic birth experience
How long can it last?
We know that the experience of pregnancy and the birth of a baby is a transformative, powerful time in any parent’s life, and it is utterly life-changing. It can be expected that new dads have emotions stirred within them, particularly in the face of sleepless nights and the deep need to protect their new family unit. But it’s when these emotional changes last longer than two weeks and begin to impede on daily life that we need to take active steps in getting support. Ignoring what is happening inside, or struggling against the emotions you feel, won’t make them stop and go away. Without support these feelings can deepen and manifest themselves into actions and behaviours that aren’t helpful. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and you don’t have to continue feeling the way you do.
What can be done about it?
Dads don’t seem to access the sort of services that new mothers do. They don’t tend to see their doctor, midwife, or child health nurse, which is where the signs of anxiety and depression are often picked up in mothers. It is often a man’s friends who are the first to notice symptoms of depression (particularly through noticing social withdrawal), or the man’s partner who may notice changes in mood or behaviour. It’s important that symptoms are recognised and acknowledged so that steps to feeling well again can be taken. If you notice these symptoms in your partner, open a dialogue and listen, acknowledge and validate. Let him know you’re there for him and that you’ll support him in getting help to sort through how he’s feeling.
There are so many options out there for dads to work through what’s happening for them if they are experiencing some of the signs of anxiety or depression. It doesn’t always have to involve the medical model of care, particularly if help is sought early.
- Mensline offer support and counselling services on 1300 78 99 78
- beyondblue offer support and advice on 1300 224 636
- https://healthyfamilies.beyondblue.org.au/pregnancy-and-new-parents/dadvice-for-new-dads offers short videos dads can watch, as well as quick quizzes to help them decipher what’s going on for them
- PANDA have a site called How is dad going? as well as a helpline on 1300 726 306
- Speak to your GP who can start with running simple blood workups to rule out deficiencies and other medical causations for certain symptoms (tiredness etc)
- Go to your local community health centre.
- Contact a private counsellor who specialises in prenatal and postnatal anxiety and depression support. Private counsellors offer a variety of approaches that work specifically to your individual needs, goals and circumstances, and don’t necessarily always involve the medical model of care.
If you’re an expecting or new dad and you can recognise in yourself some of the signs or symptoms listed above, please know that you don’t have to continue feeling the way you do. Reach out and speak to someone about what’s going on for you… your partner or a friend is a great start. If you recognise these signs in your own partner speak to them about what you see. Consider sending them this blog post. Open up a conversation about their wellbeing. The journey ahead may be a little bumpy but it’s worth it.
Image credit: Cat Fancote – Capturing Birth https://birthphotographyperth.com.au
Fiona Rogerson (B.Couns) is ACA accredited Perinatal Counsellor and Hypnobirthing (Mongan Method) Educator. She works with women and men to overcome emotional and psychological hurdles surrounding conception, pregnancy, postpartum, parenting and identity. These may include trauma (including birth trauma), anxiety, depression, grief or relational difficulties.
Fiona is based in Perth, WA, though is available to work remotely via telehealth platforms. She is also available to provide professional development training and workshops to various organisations and groups.
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