Postpartum Depression: Not Just For Moms
More than half of new mothers experience mild and transient mood changes or depression after the birth of a baby, often called the “baby blues.” New mothers may feel irritable, tearful, anxious, or fatigue, and may experience changes in sleep or appetite. These changes are likely caused by hormonal changes in the first few days or weeks following the birth of a child, and most mothers continue to function well despite these symptoms of depression.
However, more severe symptoms can lead to postpartum depression in the weeks or months following the birth of a baby. Studies indicate that 14% of new mothers battle postpartum depression, marked by extreme sadness, low energy, withdrawal from family and friends, a sense of failure, and feelings of guilt. This psychiatric disorder is also associated with marital conflicts, impaired functioning, inadequate bonding with the new baby, and thoughts of killing herself or the baby. Fortunately, postpartum depression is recognized as a serious medical condition and caregivers make powerful efforts to screen mothers for signs and symptoms of depression following the birth of a baby.
Sadly, fathers’ mental health issues are often ignored after the arrival of a new family member. More than half of new fathers experience symptoms associated with depression, similar to “baby blues,” but it generally passes quickly as fathers and mothers adjust to their new family structure. Still, some fathers have symptoms of depression that persist for more than a few days or weeks or worries and anxieties that surpass common fears about the new role as caregiver, provider, and breadwinner.
Up to 10% of dads experience postpartum depression — twice the rate of men in the general population — but it often goes unrecognized and untreated. Similar to postpartum depression in women, men who are depressed show signs of fatigue, anxiety, irritability, and withdrawal from social situations. However, men are more likely to show signs of anger than women when depressed, and they may also turn to risky, short-term solutions, such as drinking alcohol, taking drugs, extending work hours, or seeking extramarital sexual relationships. Compounding the issue of postpartum depression is that men are often discouraged from discussing their emotions or fears, especially at a time when most of their energy is focused on the needs of a new baby and new mother.
Postpartum depression affects the care that the baby receives, and the care that mothers and fathers give to each other and to themselves. Postpartum depression — in men and women — can lead to family dysfunction and insufficient care for the new baby. Mothers and fathers who experience postpartum depression are more likely to engage in reckless or dangerous behavior with their newborn, and less likely to have positive interactions with the child, such as reading, singing, or playing. Thankfully, postpartum depression in men and women is easily treatable once recognized and diagnosed. Through combinations of counseling, behavior modification, or medication therapy, new parents can receive the support and guidance they need to cope with their new roles and make emotional health a family priority.
Paulson, J.F. (2006). Individual and Combined Effects of Postpartum Depression in Mothers and Fathers on Parenting Behavior. PEDIATRICS, 118(2), 659-668. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2005-2948
Dipiro JT, et al. (2002), Pharmacotherapy: A pathophysiologic approach (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
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