Dads can get postnatal depression too
Monday 18 March 2019
For many Queenslanders, the joy and excitement of having a baby can be accompanied by other emotions, some of them unexpected and confusing.
While it’s well-known that postnatal depression can affect mothers, pregnancy and birth can also take its toll on the mental health and wellbeing of fathers.
Having a baby is a life-changing event. Just because dads don’t physically give birth, it doesn’t mean they are not at risk of postnatal depression.
Shannon Muridge discovered this six years ago when he became a dad to twins, a girl and boy who were born a month premature and required extended care.
“They stayed in hospital an extra month and neither of us was prepared for that,” he says.
The life upheaval, along with chronic pain from a back injury, feeling left out in the nurturing of their new child and exhaustion, had a dramatic impact on Shannon’s mental health.
“Having twins was full-on,” he says.
“With things like they were, I was finding myself getting frustrating and I was even starting to get resentful towards the kids.”
Shannon says acknowledging there was an issue was the first step in learning to cope.
“I realised I needed to see someone because I was getting angry,” he says.
“Finding someone to talk to about it was hard – when it comes to postnatal depression, it feels like sometimes the dads are forgotten. But when I did speak with a therapist, it certainly helped.”
Shannon also joined a dads-only multiple births group on Facebook, finding solace in the support of men in similar situations.
“A lot of guys won’t talk to other guys about these sorts of issues but it’s helpful talking to someone who’s in the same position as you,” he says.
“If I had advice for other dads, especially first-time dads, it would be to talk to someone before the baby is born so they can try to prepare mentally for the massive change in their lives.”
What causes postnatal depression in men?
The adjustment to family life and the pressures of learning to raise a child can be overwhelming and stressful for fathers, no matter their circumstances. These issues are exacerbated by lack of sleep and less time to relax.
Queensland Health’s Chief Psychiatrist Dr John Reilly says first-time dads especially may be susceptible to postnatal mental illness.
“There’s no real way to prepare for the birth of your first child,” Dr Reilly says.
“Of course, there are the feelings of happiness and anticipation but the reality is, the new pressures of fatherhood can also cause feelings of apprehension, anxiety, exhaustion and guilt.
“Life seems to change abruptly; suddenly you have a human being to care for and it can be very daunting.
“You’re getting much less sleep, your routine is thrown out, you have far less free time and you spend more energy looking after your little one than yourself.”
Postnatal depression may be more common in dads who have:
- limited practical, emotional or social support
- a history of mental health issues
- had a difficult pregnancy
- a sick baby
- found the reality of parenting different from their expectations
- had major life and relationship difficulties
- financial stress
- current or previous issues with alcohol or drugs.
Like mums who experience the illness, dads may also experience hormonal changes. Hormones such as testosterone and cortisol may change in men following the arrival of their child, triggering depression.
Despite the high rate, postnatal depression among men is often undiagnosed, as its symptoms appear similar to the everyday stress that comes with caring for a newborn.
What are the symptoms of postnatal depression in men?
It’s important men are aware of the symptoms of postnatal depression so they can seek support and treatment early. The condition can vary from one dad to another but if you’ve felt low, uninterested or unmotivated for two or more weeks, you may have depression .
Changes in moods and emotions can be common and include: feeling sad, low or miserable; anxious; and overwhelmed or unable to cope. Dads may become short-tempered, frustrated and angry.
Men suffering postnatal mental illness may also experience behavioural changes. They may lose interest in things they once enjoyed, become withdrawn and disconnected from their partner, family and friends and fear going out in public. It’s also common for fathers to be afraid of being alone with the baby.
Physical symptoms include: feeling sick in general; being unable to sleep or sleeping excessively; loss of appetite or overeating; low energy levels; and reduced sex drive.
Fathers with depression often struggle to think clearly or make decisions. They may suffer a significant loss of confidence and think their child is better off with someone else.
In serious cases of postnatal depression, men might even have thoughts about hurting themselves or the baby. Urgent treatment is required in these cases.
What can dads do to take care of themselves?
There are many things men can do to reduce the risk of developing postnatal depression, or at least manage the condition, so they can enjoy the experience of parenthood.
Dr Reilly says the most important rule is to be aware of the signs and know when and how to seek help.
“It’s very important to recognise symptoms of depression, whether they be feeling down, having trouble concentrating, not sleeping or having disturbing thoughts,” Dr Reilly says.
“If you experience any symptoms, remember you are not alone and there is always support available.”
Don’t forget – or neglect – your partner. Both parents will likely be stressed and exhausted. It’s helpful to understand you’re both in this together. Talk about how you’re feeling and make sure you’re both eating properly, getting enough rest and looking after your own health.
Some fathers may feel left out of the caring process but their role in supporting the mother, especially while she is giving birth or breastfeeding, is a significant one. Engaged dads who do things like change nappies and check on the baby during the night are more likely to feel part of the parenting process.
The arrival of your baby doesn’t mean your social life is over. Find time to spend with your friends. Other dads will have useful advice to help you through the frenetic first few months of fatherhood.
What help is available?
If you believe you are showing signs of postnatal depression, speak to a loved one or your GP.
Support is also available at: