Moms aren’t the only ones who struggle with postpartum depression. Dads struggle, too.
In this 2010 meta-analysis published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers reviewed 43 studies with over 28,000 participants and found that 10 percent of men had prenatal or postpartum depression. That’s more than double the rate of men who suffer from depression in the general population — 4.8 percent.
Symptoms of Depression
In their book The Pregnancy & Postpartum Anxiety Workbook: Practical Skills to Help You Overcome Anxiety, Worry, Panic Attacks, Obsessions and Compulsions, authors Pamela S. Wiegartz, Ph.D, and Kevin L. Gyoerkoe, PsyD, note that depression can strike dads at any time, from their wife’s pregnancy to months after their child’s birth.
Symptoms of depression can include depressed mood; loss of interest in activities; fatigue; changes in sleep; changes in appetite or weight; difficulty concentrating or making decisions; feelings of guilt or worthlessness; and thoughts of death or suicide.
Men, however, may struggle with different symptoms. The lead author of the above meta-analysis, James Paulson, told Scientific American (in this piece by Katherine Harmon) that some researchers have called for a change in the diagnostic criteria because men tend to struggle with irritability, detachment and emotional withdrawal.
How Dad’s Depression Affects Kids
Like maternal postpartum depression, depression in dads also poses risks for kids. Some research has suggested that dad’s depression may increase the risk for behavioral problems and mental illness. (See here and here for full-text articles.)
While genetics may play a role in predisposing kids to such problems, postpartum depression can affect how dads interact with their kids. This study found that depressed dads were less likely to read to their kids or sing, play and tell them stories.
Psychiatrist Paul Ramchandani told Slate magazine (in this article by Emily Anthes): “Depression affects how fathers interact with their children. They may be more irritable, they may be more withdrawn. That might affect children’s understanding of emotions and how they learn to regulate their own emotions.”
Anthes added: “Mood problems may also influence fathers’ ability to work, affect the strength of their marital relationships, and more — any of which could put their kids at risk.”
Coping Effectively with Symptoms
Some symptoms of depression can be managed with lifestyle changes, such as practicing better self-care and adding exercise to your days (and trying the below tips); more severe or prolonged symptoms require professional help. If you’re struggling with these types of symptoms, make an appointment with a mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
In their workbook Wiegartz and Gyoerkoe offer useful techniques to help dads overcome the stress of fatherhood. Here are several of their suggestions:
- Consider the benefits of being a dad. When you’re sleep-deprived and dealing with a crying baby, it’s helpful to remember why you chose to have kids in the first place. According to the authors, “You might think about the more immediate payoffs like seeing your son smile for the first time, or far-off rewards such as hugging your daughter after she graduates from college.” Write down the benefits, and read them whenever you’re going through tough times.
- Create coping statements. What we say to ourselves has a big impact on our feelings. That’s where coping statements come in. For instance, one dad routinely got stressed and upset when his daughter cried. He recorded several coping statements on an index card, including “She’s an infant. She doesn’t know any better.” He’d review these statements any time he started feeling anxious or depressed. Write down five coping thoughts you can use to manage your feelings.
- Get support. Being a parent can feel lonely and isolating, Wiegartz and Gyoerkoe note, so it’s important to connect with others. Think about who makes up your support network, the people you go to for help. This might be anyone from your spouse to your siblings to other dads to your rabbi or priest.
- Get sleep. While getting sleep with a new baby probably seems like a dream, it’s especially important for people with postpartum depression, according to the authors. One study found that sleep was key in reducing maternal postpartum depression and likely helps dads, too. According to Wiegartz and Gyoerkoe, to sleep better, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time; avoid caffeine after 4 p.m.; use your bed solely for sleep and sex; avoid working out before bed; and if you can’t sleep within 20 minutes of being in bed, do a boring task outside your bedroom. Also, try napping when your little one does. Napping for up to 30 minutes can even boost performance and alertness. (Any longer tends to cause grogginess.) Just be sure your naps don’t interfere with nighttime sleep.
- Improve your parenting skills. Thoughts of not knowing what you’re doing when it comes to parenting your child can contribute to feelings of anxiety, overwhelm and depression. No one is born knowing how to parent. Thankfully, there are many opportunities to boost your skills. The authors suggest everything from reading reputable parenting books to attending classes to asking dads you admire for advice.
- Remember that you matter. Today, dads are taking a more primary role in raising their kids, and that’s a great thing. Research has shown that dads are critical in their kids’ development. For instance, dad’s involvement at an early age may protect kids from some emotional problems and distress; help them do better in school; and lead to other cognitive and emotional benefits.
If your wife is struggling with postpartum depression, the valuable website Postpartum Progress has additional information, personal stories and resources for dads.