'Paternal Depression' Is Real & It Affects More New Dads Than You Think

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When my first baby was born, I just knew something in me was off. I was anxious all the time -- even beyond what's considered "normal" for a new mom -- and I always felt like I was just one difficult feeding away from a complete nervous breakdown. I ended up being diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD), which is disturbingly common among moms. But, research shows moms aren't the only ones who suffer from baby-related mood disorders. A study published this week found that a surprising number of dads experience symptoms of depression when they welcome a new baby.

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Researchers at the University of Auckland interviewed a diverse group of 3,500 men, all of whom had pregnant partners. They asked the men questions about their mental health prior to the births of their babies, and then again after the babies were born. Researchers then ranked the dads' answers on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, which is a scale used to measure depression in women who've just given birth.

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What researchers found is that around 2 percent of dads experience prenatal depression, and a little over 4 percent of dads experience extreme depressive symptoms post-baby. Men were more likely to feel depressed if they had poor health, were unemployed, or were no longer in a relationship with their child's mother (makes sense!). Most disturbing, the men experiencing depression were less likely than women to talk about their feelings or ask for help.

Published in the journal JAMA Psychology, this isn't the first study to prove men can experience what many researchers call "paternal depression." A 2015 report in the American Journal of Men's Health showed up to 13 percent of new dads report depressive symptoms, like agitation, anxiety, sadness, and stress, which are typically associated with the "baby blues" -- the intense period of hormonal fluctuation moms experience after giving birth.

As someone who suffered from postpartum depression, I feel like it's tempting to side-eye research that tries to compare PPD to anything men might experience. After all, one in nine women suffer from PPD, while the rate of depression in men is much smaller. Plus, research released just recently showed the brain changes doctors observe in women who suffer from postpartum depression are unlike that of any other mood disorder.

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PPD is debilitating, complex, and doesn't get nearly as much attention as it should. Still, that doesn't exclude men from suffering in different ways. Studies have shown men don't get as much support in new fatherhood as women do, and they often feel guilty "burdening" their partners with their feelings. They also don't usually get as much time with their newborns because of work, which can make them feel stressed out and guilty.

When I was suffering from postpartum depression, friends told me over and over again that I shouldn't feel guilty asking for help, because "a healthy mom equals a healthy baby."

Perhaps it's time to apply that philosophy to all parents. Paternal depression may not be exactly the same as postpartum depression, but it's still a valid issue, and all parents deserve to feel heard and recognized when they're struggling with their mental health.

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