Postpartum depression affects between 4 and 25 percent of new fathers. The stats are surprising – not so much because of the actual numbers, but because the condition is largely considered the province of mothers.
The fact is, paternal postpartum depression (PPD) originates and manifests in almost identical ways to the more documented female version – the diagnostic definition itself reads the same as maternal PPD: a major depressive episode with an onset in the first month after birth.
So what are the signs of this sudden assault on the psyche?
Firstly, a history of depression and anxiety can set you up as a prime PPD candidate, but past mental illness is not a necessity. Fatherly.com breaks down the typical symptoms of PPD:
- Inability to sleep
- Too much sleep
- Severe weight loss or gain
- Unexplained anger
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
- Inability to concentrate
You felt fine just before baby was born – why has this happened now?
Simply put: hormones. Scientists hypothesise that there’s an evolutionary protective mechanism in place that triggers an increase in oestrogen and a dive in testosterone in dads upon the birth of a baby – less machismo means more cautious parenting decisions, apparently.
Now add in the natural fears that come with becoming custodian of a helpless human being, and the prerequisite sleep deprivation: all the ingredients for a mental meltdown.
And if mum is suffering from postpartum depression, too, the chances of dad getting it increase. (Misery loves company, don’t forget.)
But will it affect the kids?
The short answer is probably. If you leave it to fester. Studies show that both physically absent fathers and present but emotionally withdrawn fathers up the risk of behavioural problems for their offspring in later childhood.
So what’s next?
Acknowledge your symptoms as symptoms – then hit up your doc for a proper diagnosis. He’ll take the lead in terms of medication (if appropriate), but on the cognitive side, it’s imperative that you convene with other PPD sufferers; preferably in a group therapy context. Above all, be honest with yourself about the condition. Having PPD won’t make you subpar parent; doing something about it will make you a great one.