For years, postpartum depression has been thought of as a condition only new moms grapple with. Now, research is finally shedding light on the difficult truth that men are suffering, as well. A recent study on paternal postnatal depression (PPND) out of Northwestern University, published in Pediatrics, followed 10,000 men and found that for dads who lived with their children and were around 25 years old, depressive symptoms increased by 68 percent during their child's first five years of life. What's more, these symptoms often go unrecognized and fail to be addressed.
Without treatment, postpartum mood disorders often worsen. "This can result in damaging, long-term consequences for a man, his marriage, and his entire family," explains Will Courtnenay, PhD, LCSW, author of Dying to Be Men (Routledge, 2011), and founder of the website SadDaddy.com.
Here, 11 facts couples should know about the underdiagnosed condition ...
- A 2010 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) analysis of 43 previous studies showed that 14 percent of dads -- or 1 in 7 -- in the U.S. are at risk for PPND.
- PPND differs from the "daddy blues," which many new dads experience. Although extra sleep, going to the gym, or hanging out with friends will usually alleviate a case of the "blues," these activities won't help depression.
- PPND differs from postpartum depression in women in that can appear later on, developing gradually over the course of the first year.
- The risk factors: A lack of support from friends and social networks can increase a man's risk of PPND. "For the average guy, his wife is his primary – and sometimes only – source of support," explains Dr. Courtenay. "So, it’s not surprising that one in three new dads feels shut out from the relationship between his partner and baby." In turn, he notes that over half of new dads report that they feel like their spouses or partners don't love them as much as they did before they had a baby.
- The most at risk: Black and Hispanic fathers are at the greatest risk for depression, according to the Pediatrics study.
- The biggest predictor: 50 percent of men whose partners are suffering from postpartum depression will become depressed themselves.
- The signs: "PPND is not so easy to spot, because depression in men doesn’t always look like depression," explains Dr. Courtenay. "It can look like irritability and anger, working constantly, drinking or gambling too much, or having an affair. These are some of the ways men can experience and cope with depression differently than women." At the same time, classic signs of depression -- sadness, loss of pleasure in hobbies or sex, a sense of worthlessness, and thoughts of suicide -- may occur. "We have to remember that men are more likely than women to try to hide their depression, so looking out for any sign of something unusual is critical," Dr. Courtenay notes.
- Postpartum depression may be more likely to go undiagnosed in men, because men are traditionally less likely to ask for help than women. However, they are more willing to report problems like irritability and fatigue -- as opposed to sadness or worthlessness.
- The key culprits: "A lack of sleep is probably the biggest culprit," Dr. Courtenay says, explaining that the neurochemical changes that occur in a man's brain as a result of sleep deprivation combine with hormonal changes -- testosterone decreasing as estrogen increases -- to create "the perfect storm" that generally peaks in the 3- to 6-month period after a baby is born.
- Other causes: Postpartum depression is linked with the baby being unplanned or unexpected, the father unhappy about the gender of the baby, the baby having health problems or being colicky, and the baby having breast-feeding or bottle-feeding problems, according to Courtenay's research of over 4,000 fathers in collaboration with McLean Hospital at Harvard Medical School.
- Treatment: Dr. Courtenay's site offers an assessment to help men determine whether they might be depressed. If they suspect they may be, talk therapy or talk therapy in combination with medication are research-proven to be effective therapies. Ultimately, it will be best to seek out help from a licensed mental health professional who specializes in working with men.
Has your partner ever experienced depression after welcoming a child? What helped you both cope?
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