Mamas on Bedrest: Sign of Post Partum Depression in New Dads

May 31st, 2010

Post partum depression in dads is not always easy to spot. Where a new mama may be sad, weepy or withdrawn, a new dad suffering with post partum depression is more likely to be angry, hostile, aggressive or, in some cases aloof and withdrawn spending lots of time away from home and family.

What causes post partum depression in men? Well, the causes are the same as in women; sleep deprivation, adjustment to the unending needs of the newborn, the stress on the marital relationship and withdrawal (albeit temporary) from friends and activities once enjoyed. The birth of a new baby ushers in a time of major transition and change for the entire family. If the pregnancy had complications, the issues are further compounded.

Until very recently, no one really considered the impact a new baby had on dads. The focus has always been on mama and baby, their health and their needs. But a recent study shows that new dads are just as overwhelmed as new mamas once a baby is born and it is essential to the well being of the family in general, and to the emotional and behavioral development of the baby in particular, that any depression in dad be addressed.

In the May 19, 2010 Journal of the American Medical Association, James F. Paulson, PhD, a pediatric psychologist and professor at East Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, VA reports data from a review of 43 research studies in which just over 28,000 men were evaluated for post partum depression. Paulson and his colleagues found that 10.4% of new fathers experienced post partum depression, a number that is more than double the 4.8% rate of depression in men in the general population. Paulson also found that post partum depression in new dads peaked from 3-6 months post partum at about 25%.

The numbers were a alarming to Paulson and others who have begun to look at post partum depression in men. Previously post partum depression was thought to only occur in new mothers and the assumption was that it was due primarily to the fluctuation of hormones. More recently researchers have noted that women with a personal history or even a family history of depression are at increased risk of developing post partum depression. This new data indicates that men with a personal or family history of depression are also at increased risk of developing post partum depression. In addition, if a man’s wife is depressed post partum, he is also more likely to become depressed. Paulson and other experts are unsure if mama’s post partum depression sparks dad’s post partum derpession or vice versa. But one thing is clear, if either spouse develops post partum depression, it puts the other spouse at increased risk.

Paulson’s data is sounding alarms throughout the medical community. Clinicians and family members must be on the alert to the signs and symptoms of post partum depression in new fathers.

  • Sadness
  • Depressed Mood
  • Loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep abnormalities
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Appetite changes
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Withdrawal from the family, extended time away from home and the family

The last three symptoms are very specific to men.  When these symptoms are noted, it is very important to encourage a man to seek help from either his primary care physician or a mental health care provider because depression, and post partum depression in particular, are highly treatable. It is very important that dads receive treatment to avoid social, emotional, behavioral and developmental problems in their children as they grow up. It has already been shown that children raised by a depressed mother are at increased risk of these problems, but the emotional well being of dads can have just as strong an impact. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a depression expert and psychology professor at Yale University who wasn’t involved in the current study adds,

“Men’s postpartum depression may manifest differently than women’s,” said Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema. “In general, depressed men are more likely to exhibit hostility and even aggression, whereas women who are depressed tend to become sad. You have to worry not only about the general atmosphere it [the father’s depression] creates, but also about potential abuse,” said Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema.

Getting a new dad to get help is key. “Men are extraordinarily less likely to seek mental health services [than women],” Paulson noted. “If we can get a man in to see his family doctor or even a mental health provider, that’s a really major step.”

Paulson also notes that educating couples that post partum depression is a possibility-in both mother and father- after the baby is born is essential. “Just letting parents know that they’re at higher risk of depression, what they need to look for and what they can do about it, could help.”

As with a new mother, if the signs and symptoms of depression become evident in a new father, strongly encourage him to get medical attention. If he hesitates, further encourage him by letting him know that his emotional well being can and will have long term effects on his children.

Resources:

www.postpartummen.com.  This website is run by Will Courtenay, PhD, a psychologist in Oakland, Calif.

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