Postnatal depression in dads

Discover the signs and symptoms new dads might experience if they're struggling with postnatal depression

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When welcoming a baby into the world, it’s normal to feel a wide range of emotions. Parenting is a rewarding experience, but one that will bring many challenges. For some new dads, this experience can bring unexpected emotions that conflict with the joy and anticipation you feel.

Postnatal depression is widely recognised in new mothers, but it's important to know that dads can also suffer with this condition too. Postnatal depression in fathers is often overlooked and underestimated, but it can have a significant impact on the mental health of the father involved. It certain circumstances, it could also affect their family relationships and ability to bond with their babies.

This article explores postnatal depression in men, including how and why dads can experience new dad depression, the symptoms they might experience, and offer guidance on what to do if they suspect they are facing this mental health challenge.

Can dads get postnatal depression?

Typically, you might associate postnatal depression with new mothers, but it also affects dads too. Postnatal depression is not confined to gender lines; it can affect both men and women.

Women experience hormonal fluctuations after childbirth that can contribute to postnatal depression, but research from 2017 indicated that men may also undergo these changes, especially in correlation with their partner.

These hormonal shifts, along with the overwhelming responsibilities of becoming a parent, can create the underlying causes of postnatal depression in dads.

Environmental causes of depression could also be at play. In modern society, men are often expected to be strong and hide their emotions. This expectation can worsen their situation and cause them to suffer silently.

Symptoms of postnatal depression in dads

Many of the symptoms of postnatal depression overlap with core symptoms of depression in men. While men and women may experience similar emotional struggles, postnatal depression can show different symptoms in each gender.

Here are some common symptoms that new fathers may experience:

Persistent sadness or low mood

Dads with postnatal depression may feel persistently sad, hopeless, or emotionally numb. They might find it challenging to experience joy or excitement about their new role as a father.

Fatigue and sleep problems

Sleep deprivation is a common part of early parenthood, but for men with postnatal depression, the exhaustion can be overwhelming. They may struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, even when given the opportunity.

Changes in appetite

A loss of appetite or emotional eating may occur in men with postnatal depression. Some may find solace in overeating or seek comfort through food.

Irritability and anger

While some new fathers might experience bouts of irritability due to stress, those with postnatal depression may find themselves becoming overly angry or hostile without a clear reason.

Withdrawal from family and friends

Men facing postnatal depression may withdraw from their partner, family, and friends. They might feel a sense of isolation or believe that others won't understand what they're going through.

Lack of Interest in previously enjoyed activities

Hobbies and interests that used to bring joy may lose their appeal for men experiencing postnatal depression.

Difficulty bonding with the baby

Some fathers may have trouble bonding with their new born, feeling disconnected or inadequate as a parent.

Thoughts of self-harm or suicidal ideation

In severe cases, a dad might experience thoughts of self-harm or suicide. It's essential to take any mention of such feelings seriously and seek immediate professional help.

It's important to note that experiencing one or two of these symptoms doesn't necessarily mean a man has postnatal depression. However, if these feelings persist or intensify over time, seeking professional support is highly advisable.

What to do if you think you have postnatal depression

If you suspect that you might be experiencing postnatal depression, remember that you are not alone, and help is available. Taking the following steps can be crucial in addressing postnatal depression and fostering a healthier mental state:

Talk about your feelings

Open up to your partner, family, or friends about what you're going through. Telling someone you have depression is hard, but sharing your emotions can help lighten the burden and allow your loved ones to support you effectively.

Prioritise self-care

Take care of your physical and emotional wellbeing. Get plenty of sleep, engage in regular exercise, and eat as healthily as you can. Avoid the temptation to neglect your own needs as you adjust to fatherhood – self-care and mental health are inextricably linked.

Connect with other dads

Joining support groups or online communities for fathers can offer a sense of camaraderie and understanding. Sharing experiences with other dads facing similar challenges can be beneficial for your mental health.

Involve your partner

Be open with your partner about your feelings. Including them in your journey can strengthen your bond and create a united front against postnatal depression.

Seek Professional Help

There is no shame in accepting you need help and support when dealing with your mental health. Don't hesitate to reach out to your GP or other healthcare professional if you think you are experiencing in postnatal depression. They can provide an accurate diagnosis and suggest appropriate treatment options.

Male postnatal depression is a real and valid concern for new fathers, and it's essential to recognise its existence and the potential impact it can have on men's mental health.

If you are struggling with depression after having a child, or know someone who is, treatment options are available that can help you get your life back on track. Private treatment for depression at Priory can help you to address your symptoms and the underlying causes, creating the building blocks that help you continue to lead a fulfilling life

Page clinically reviewed by Dr Ian Nnatu (MB BS, PG DIP (CBT), MSc, FRCPsych, MRCPsych) Consultant Adult Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital North London

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