Postpartum Depression in Men
Our culture tends to recognize the stresses of being a new mother: managing the lack of sleep, establishing breastfeeding, handling hormone changes, balancing home life with a career, finding your stride as a parent. But the challenges of becoming a new father are less recognized, less understood, and certainly less studied.
“There’s a cultural myth that men don’t get depressed, and it’s so powerful that even trained clinicians are less likely to correctly diagnose depression in men than in women,” explains Will Courtenay, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and leading expert on postpartum depression in men (Men’s Health 2011).
Men undergo similar hormone changes to mothers. Testosterone levels decrease, estrogen levels increase, and prolactin levels (associated with breastfeeding moms) also go up in men (Men’s Health 2011). Add the cultural myth that men should hide their feelings and just need to “man up,” and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Postpartum depression in men is most prevalent three to six months after birth.
In 2010, a meta-analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined postpartum depression in men and found that, of the more than 28,000 studied,
Men are at most risk 3 to 6 months after the birth, when the rate rockets to 25%.
(Men’s Health 2011).
Researchers also found a moderate link between depression in mothers and depression in fathers. Fathers with a partner struggling with depression are 50% more likely to develop depression themselves.
Yet fathers with postpartum depression are less likely than women to get help, in part because of cultural myths and in part because pediatricians, who often screen parents for postpartum depression, don’t see fathers as often as mothers.
Untreated postpartum depression in men has major consequences. A study from the University of Michigan found that depressed dads were nearly four times more likely to spank their one-year-old children and less than half as likely to consistently read to them (Men’s Health 2011). Children of depressed fathers have more emotional and behavioral problems than other kids at age three and more psychiatric disorders by age seven (Szabo 2010).
Signs and Symptoms
Diagnosing postpartum depression in men can be challenging. In addition to the myth that men can’t suffer from depression or seek help for emotional struggles, the signs and symptoms in men are different than women. We typically think of someone who is depressed as sad or crying, but that may not be the case in men.
- Increase in anger and conflict with others
- Increase in use of alcohol or other drugs, including prescription medication
- Frustration or irritability
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Violent behavior
- Losing weight without trying
- Isolation from family and friends
- Being easily stressed
- Impulsiveness and risk taking, like reckless driving and extramarital sex
- Feeling discouraged
- Ongoing physical symptoms like headaches, digestion problems, or pain
- Problems with concentration and motivation
- Working constantly
- Fatigue (Good men project)
You are not alone in the feelings you are having, and getting support is crucial for you and your family’s wellness.
Find a mental health clinician who specializes in postpartum depression or works with men often. WellMama can help refer you to someone in the Eugene-Springfield area through our phone and email support program. Simply call us at 1-800-896-0410. You will need to feel comfortable with the therapist, but it may take a visit or two to determine that.
You can also chat online with an expert and learn more at postpartum.net.
Get Some Sleep
Sleep deprivation can be a major contributing factor to postpartum depression in men and women. Just as we tell women to arrange for someone to watch the baby for five hours each night so that they can get some sleep, you should do the same. Try taking the baby for the first part of the night and letting your partner take baby for the second part of each night. See the Health and Wellness section of our Community Voices & Resource Guide on sleep tips.
Talk About It
Talk about your feelings with your partner or trusted friend. Consider joining a WellMama support group or calling our warm line. Voicing your concerns can make a huge difference and provide relief.
Build a Support Network
Just as new moms need a support group, so too do new dads. Try taking baby to the playgroup and bonding with the other parents. Reconnect with family and friends. Try to find trusted friends or family members to help at least one night a week. Such support can be invaluable.
The Good Life. “Postpartum Depression in Men: It’s Real.” 16 March 2012.
Men’s Health. “Can Men Get Postpartum Depression?” 27 March 2011.
Szabo, Liz. “Postpartum Depression Hits As Many Dads As Moms.” USA Today. 19 May 2010.