Whenever people hear the term “post partum depression”, images of tearful women holding newborn infants usually come to mind. People rarely conjure up images of men with their newborn babies when they hear that someone is struggling with post partum depression. Although post partum depression commonly refers to a mother’s struggles, it can actually pertain to a father’s difficulties as well.
Male post partum depression is a real condition and has historically been overlooked by physicians, practitioners, and mental health professionals. Like women, it is normal for there to be an adjustment period following the birth of a child. Men are exhausted, trying to adjust to parenthood, and attempting to meet their normal work and household responsibilities. However, when symptoms linger longer than expected, it may be indicative of a larger problem.
PPND, or Paternal Postnatal Depression, is a fairly common condition. It is estimated that approximately 1 in 10 men experience postpartum depression after the birth of a child. While women often internalize their fear and sadness, men externalize it. Men are more likely to express their depression through angry outbursts, aggressive behavior, or irritability. Men may feel disconnected from the relationship, experience anxiety, and have feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. Men may experience dark moods that can make them vulnerable to engaging in negative behaviors, such as drinking, gambling, or using drugs.
Male postpartum depression is a serious condition, but highly treatable. It is important to be vigilant to the signs of male postpartum depression, which can include:
- Elevated anger, conflict, and fights with others– Men may have trouble verbalizing their feelings, causing them to act them out behaviorally. Men may appear to be on edge and overly aggressive or harsh. New fathers may display aggressive behaviors and instigate conflicts and fights with others. They may show elevated, unwarranted angry responses that are not equivalent to the situation.
- Frequent feelings of aggravation and irritation– Men can display increased levels of irritability and have lower patience levels. They may become easily aggravated over small, insignificant things.
- Aggressive or violent behavior- New fathers may become highly aggressive, or even violent towards others.
- Significant fluctuations in weight– Through their depression, men may experience severe fluctuations in weight. Men may eat excessively and gain weight, or may eat less and lose weight.
- Isolating from family and friends- New fathers may start to isolate from loved ones. They may withdraw from family functions and refrain from hanging out with friends. They may turn down socialization opportunities at work or other business engagements.
- Being easily stressed-Men may have a lower frustration tolerance, causing them to feel increased amounts of stress. Due to elevated stress levels, men may be easily set off by minor things.
- Increased impulsivity and risk-taking behaviors- Men can show higher levels of impulsivity and act without thinking. New fathers may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors and impulsive decision making.
- Difficulty with concentration, focus, and motivation- Men can show decreased levels of concentration and have a diminished ability to focus. They may also show a lack of motivation to engage in certain activities.
- Lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyable- Men may start to veer away from activities that were once enjoyable to them. They can start to show a lack of interest in things that they used to deem as pleasing and fun.
- Excessive fatigue and tiredness- Despite the normal disruptions in sleep that are expected with a new baby, men may show excessive levels of fatigue and tiredness. They may have low energy levels and have difficulty functioning and getting through the day.
- Feelings of sadness and increased tearfulness- Some men may appear outwardly sad and have excessive bouts of tearfulness.
- Thoughts of self-harming behaviors or suicidal thoughts- In extreme situations, men may develop thoughts of self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts.
Being vigilant and aware of the signs of male post partum depression is critical in getting a new father the help and support that he needs.
Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.