Postnatal depression: it's not just women

Think postnatal depression is only for women? Think again! Research suggests that up to 1 in 10 men will experience paternal postnatal depression. 

When we picture postnatal depression (PND), in our minds we often see the image of an exhausted mum, frazzled and wracked with guilt over feeling numb toward her young baby. We ache for her as she sends herself into a tailspin of sadness holding back tears while she tries to tend to her bub. 

What if it were dad in a tailspin of sadness? 

Dad who is wracked with guilt?

Dad who feels emotionally numb?

Research has shown that it’s not just women who experience PND. Men can too. Often though, we don’t consider that dad could be struggling in much the same way. But they can, and they do. 

Research suggests that up to 1 in 10 to men will experience paternal PND, however this is only what is reported. There may be many more cases that go unreported, thus the figure could be even higher. Paternal PND (PND in men) can often co-occur when mum also has PND, but it can also happen when mum has no PND symptoms at all. 

Symptoms of postnatal depression in men

Paternal postnatal depression in men does not always look like the ‘traditional’ picture of PND. There may not be excessive teariness, or being very emotional. What you may find instead is:

  • Irritability
  • Feelings of being ‘trapped’
  • Disappointment at the experience of parenthood
  • Emotional withdrawal
  • Loss of libido
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Headaches and pains
  • Increased risk taking behaviour
  • Sinking further into work

What causes postnatal depression in men?

The causes are much the same as for postnatal depression women. There are a range of social, emotional, and biological factors that may place dads at greater risk of developing PND. Things like having a history of depression or anxiety, a depressed partner, low self-esteem, relationship difficulties, excessive stress and lack of social interaction can all contribute to the development of PND. These warning signs usually crop up around six weeks post-birth, and can continue to escalate upwards of six months post-birth, creating a difficult ripple effect in a dad’s life.

What are the impacts of postnatal depression in men?

The impact that paternal PND has can be far-reaching. From disconnecting with partners and other family members, to difficulties in the workplace, potential substance abuse, and struggles with everyday life. 

One of the biggest factors to consider though is the impact on children. Paternal PND has been linked to emotional and behavioural problems in children aged three to five years years. This negative impact can also span through to adolescent behaviour. With dad unable to be emotionally available to children, he often also physically withdraws. The lack of quality time spent with a parent translates into fewer opportunities for secure attachment, less playtime with dad, and less reading time, and the research is showing a greater opportunity for emotional and behavioural disruptions. 
Dad and baby playing together

Highlighting male mental health issues

In generations past, men and mental health issues were pretty much a taboo in society. Men sharing emotions just didn’t happen, despite the fact that they too feel things just as keenly as women.

A mentality of ‘harden up and get on with it’ seemed to permeate. And now we can see that this attitude has failed our men. With suicide being one of the leading cause of deaths for men in our society, we need to start shedding light on male mental health issues. 

Postnatal depression can be even more stigmatising as it is often seen as a ‘female’ issue. Men often feel that they need to be ‘strong’ for their families, which leads them to sometimes downplay their issues, and not seek help. 

Witnessing their partners in distress can lead dads to feel distressed too, sometimes shouldering the weight of their own and their partner’s PND. 

Dads play a central role in the lives of their partners and children, and they also need support during that vulnerable stages of parenthood. When dads are feeling good, they can act as a protective factor for children if mum is struggling. We need to ensure both mum and dad are feeling OK, it’s that simple. 

Support for dads with postnatal depression

There are supports available, but perhaps more needs to be done to bring them to the fore. It is vital to help dads feel comfortable speaking up and seek help when needed. Mensline can be a great resource for men to chat about their concerns, and beyondblue has a wealth of information and support options for men, as does the Black Dog Institute. PANDA provides useful information and there is also a website, called How is Dad Going?, helping dads to know that they’re not alone. 

It is common for men to feel this way, and the birth of a child is a big transition in anyone’s life. The more we bring these issues out in the open, the less stigma and the more readily we can provide support and reduce the impact of PND. 
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