When people talk about postpartum depression (PPD), they often only think of moms. After all, PPD affects 13% of women who have just given birth around the world. However, growing evidence suggests that dads must be part of the conversation too. A 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 10% of fathers worldwide experience paternal PPD. This number even spikes to 26% during the three- to six-month period after the baby's birth.
Despite the alarming statistics, paternal PPD is still easily eclipsed by its maternal counterpart, likely because of long-standing social expectations for men.
Stigma of paternal postpartum depression
Traditionally, men are expected to be the protectors and providers of the family. They are supposed to remain tough and stoic, even in the face of adversity. Even at a young age, they are told that “boys don’t cry” and that they have to “man up.” That’s why they are more likely to stifle their emotions, unlike moms who tend to be open about their feelings to their friends.
"So when men start to feel anxious, empty, or out of control, they don't understand it and they certainly don't ask for help," says Dr. Will Courtenay, a psychotherapist specializing in men’s health. They’re reluctant to reach out to a professional because they don’t want to be seen as weak or helpless when they’re supposed to be the strong one.
Related article: Men also suffer from postpartum depression: A guide for new moms
Symptoms of paternal postpartum depression
Fathers and mothers show different signs of depression. When fathers feel frustrated or angry, they usually don’t turn inward and cry like mothers. Instead, they express it through anger, aggressiveness, irritability, and impulsivity. They are also susceptible to increased use of drugs or alcohol, gambling, and overworking.
Effects of male postpartum depression
When left untreated, PPD can affect how a father interacts with his partner and children. Depressed dads are prone to engaging in domestic violence, making mothers more vulnerable to a host of mental and physical health problems.
They are also more likely to spank their children and less likely to engage them in positive ways, such as singing, playing, and reading, than those without depression. This increased hostility and decreased sensitivity can have long-term adverse effects on their children's development.
A study shows that children of fathers with depression or other mental illness have a 33–70% increased risk of developing emotional or behavioral problems. There’s also a positive association between paternal depression and increased aggression in children from zero to four years of age and delays in behavioral, emotional, and social development in four- and five-year-old kids.
Fathers need to seek help
The good news is that paternal PPD doesn’t have to escalate to such horrible outcomes — it can be treated. However, men have to be open to getting help. “Men need to recognize that depression is a medical condition; it's not a weakness of character,” says Dr. Courtenay. “For a man to admit he's depressed isn't unmanly or admitting defeat. It's taking charge of his life.”
If you think you or your partner has paternal PPD, then set up an appointment now with Meridian Psychiatric Partners. We serve clients in Chicago, Evanston, and Lake Forest.