Commonly believed to be woman’s condition, postpartum depression can also affect men following the birth of a child. A landmark study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), has found that paternal postnatal depression (PPND) is relatively common among men following the birth of a child.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is a mental condition that affects people following the birth of a child. It is classified as a form of clinical depression.
How Common Is Postpartum Depression in Men?
According to a recent study conducted at the Eastern Virginia Medical School, approximately 10% of men suffer PPND. Most often, the illness occurred between their wives’ first trimester and their baby’s first birthday. However, researchers believe that rates of postpartum depression in men may actually be closer to 25%. That is more than double the rate of depression in men who have not experienced the birth of a child. JAMA reports that PPND was most common in the period 3 to 6 months following a birth.
Why Does Postpartum Depression in Men Develop?
Researchers at the Center for Men and Young Men at McLean Hospital at Harvard Medical School have collaborated with psychologist Dr. Will Courtenay on a groundbreaking study into PPND. Their research findings suggest several reasons men develop the illness.
If a man’s partner is depressed, they are more prone to developing depression. In fact up to 50% of men whose partners had postpartum depression, were themselves depressed. It is thought that some men may develop PPND as a response to feeling excluded by the close bond between mother and baby. Hormonal changes may also play a role. Studies have shown that men experience hormonal changes during and after pregnancy. Levels of testosterone decrease and levels of estrogen increase.
Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression in Men
Although research is still ongoing about what puts men at risk for PPND, studies have suggested some likely culprits. A history of depression seems to predispose men to PPND. Factors related to new parenthood including lack of sleep, relationship stress with a spouse and stress related to the additional responsibilities and financial burdens of parenthood also seem to play a role.
If a couple has a poor relationship prior to the birth of a baby, lack an adequate support system, have economic problems or have a nonstandard family situation, a man may be at an increased risk of developing PPND. Having a spouse with postpartum depression is also a risk factor.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression in Men
PPND is different than postpartum depression in women. Men with PPND often display more anger, conflict with others and irritability than women. Men exhibit increased use of alcohol and other drugs, violent behavior, are more easily stressed, more impulsive and commonly immerse themselves in constant work. These may appear alongside the traditional signs of depression like a sad mood, loss of interest in pleasurable activities and suicidal thoughts. Men are more likely to hide depression than women. PPND also seems to develop more slowly over the course of their child’s first year. In women, postpartum depression usually develops relatively quickly after birth.
Treating Postpartum Depression in Men
PPND can be successfully treated. Men who think they may have PPND should seek the help of a licensed mental health professional. Many treatments for depression also help men with PPND. These treatments include therapy, exercise, meditation and medication.
Research findings suggest that more effort needs to be made in screening expectant and new fathers for depression. Until now, depression following the birth of a baby was considered to be a woman’s issue. As such, men were largely ignored. Postpartum depression in either parent has emotional, developmental and behavioral implications for their children. Diagnosis and treatment are vital to the well being of the entire family.
If a woman is found to have postpartum depression, the man should also be screened. Dr. Courtenay suggests that intervention and prevention focus on joint therapy of the couple, rather than on the individual. It should be treated more as a family disorder.
Does Postpartum Depression in Men Need Treatment?
As with any mental illness, most cases of PPND need treatment by a licensed mental health professional. Of course, sometimes the sadness can pass as men adjust to fatherhood. But in most men, therapy is needed, and not just for the well being of the men. A British study found that higher rates of psychiatric and behavioral problems were exhibited by children who had fathers with depression.
Journal of the American Medical Association