Paternal postpartum depression: Symptoms and signs of depression in dads

Postnatal depression is a type of clinical depression that occurs after the birth of a child.

The parent may experience severe anxiety with symptoms ranging from feelings of guilt to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Postnatal (or postpartum) depression is well recognised in women, with much documentation into the mental health side effects often felt in new mothers and a range of support and advice available.

However, paternal postpartum depression, the same kind of depression but for a father, has been overlooked in the past. Until recently the recognition of this type of mental health issue had been much more focused on mothers, with fathers feeling concerned to come forward out of fear of not supporting their partner who’d just given birth.

The National Childbirth Trust have conducted research which shows that more than one in three new fathers (38%) are worried about their mental health, while charity CALM report that 3% of parents feel suicidal in the first year of their child’s life and 47% of parents feel suicidal at some point.

It’s thought that many new fathers are having suicidal thoughts but feel unable to speak up, worried that they need to be strong for their partner and new baby.

Charities are now calling for better support for dads and more recognition of the mental stress that fathers experience after the birth of a child.

What is paternal postpartum depression?

The birth of a child, although a wonderful thing, can cause a lot of mental strain for a parent. It’s usually expected as a new parent to feel emotional around the time of your baby’s arrival, but when feelings of anxiety, sadness, irritability or a lowered sex drive persist these could be symptoms of postpartum depression.

Paternal postpartum depression is most common in the child’s first year and there is no known cause. Depression tends to be triggered by a stressful situation, and the birth of a child can be unsettling. Other factors that may contribute to feelings of paternal postpartum depression could be a strained relationship with a partner or if the mother is also going through postpartum depression.

If you’re experiencing paternal postpartum depression it’s normal to experience dark thoughts or feelings that you haven’t experienced before.

What are the symptoms of paternal postpartum depression?

  • Feeling down, despondent and numb
  • Feeling guilty about not connecting with your baby enough
  • Irrationally irritable
  • Crying or wanting to cry a lot
  • Loss of appetite
  • Experiencing disturbed sleep or change of sleeping pattern
  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Experiencing disturbed thoughts about harming yourself or your baby
  • Noticing obsessive behaviour within yourself
  • Having thoughts surrounding death and/or suicide
  • What treatment is there for paternal postpartum depression?

    Self help

    One of the biggest symptoms for fathers suffering with paternal postpartum depression is feeling guilty about their indifference towards their baby, or feeling disconnected and unloving towards their baby.

    It can sometimes be difficult for fathers to open up about having these feelings, but talking to a partner or family member is a good first step to dealing with these thoughts. Sharing the problem will take some of the power out of it, and by keeping these thoughts to yourself it will just intensify the feelings of worry and guilt. It’s important to remember that this is a common condition, and does not mean that you are a bad parent.

    You should also try to spend quality time with your baby, to help the connection between the two of you. Ensure that you spend time cuddling, playing and speaking to your baby. It’s also encouraged to get involved with tasks like changing their nappy or feeding them to help build a bond.

    Therapy

    You can seek help from a counsellor yourself or ask your GP for assistance in getting therapy. Talking therapies are an effective treatment for paternal postpartum depression and there’s a few different options you can take.

    Cognitive behavioural therapy is often used with fathers suffering from depression in this way. This type of therapy encourages you to change the way you think about things and it attempts to retrain the way your brain reacts to situations.

    Medication

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    If your GP thinks that you may need medication to support your recovery, they may prescribe you anti-depressants. These will always be prescribed for at least six months or more as they will take a while to become effective.

    At first your symptoms could actually become heightened by taking the medication but that should settle down quickly before seeing a positive change.