When dads develop PPD (guest post)
If you’re like most, the first time you hear of paternal postpartum depression (pppd) a thought such as “What? Men get it too?” crosses your mind. In fact, not only do men experience postpartum depression (ppd), U.S. fathers do so at a rate of 10.4%, which is equivalent to over 400,000 fathers annually. (8.4% of fathers experience pppd internationally.)
If so many men experience pppd then why is it such a secret? Identifying pppd can be difficult because many men attempt to hide their negative experiences and feelings fearing it will make them appear weak. Many dads are discouraged to talk openly and honestly about the “pitfalls” surrounding the pregnancy, birth and caring for their newborn, often believing that since they did not undergo the pains of pregnancy or labor they have no cause to complain. Additionally, many men, being unaware of the uniquely male characteristics of depression, have no idea what they are experiencing is pppd. Many health practitioners are also unaware of the unique characteristics of male depression, which leads to many men being undiagnosed and untreated.
So what does pppd look like in men? Male characteristics of depression can be difficult to recognize. Many men do not relate to the classic descriptors of depression, such as feeling sad or crying. Rather, men experiencing depression tend to report an increase in irritability, impulsivity, indecisiveness, and/or experience conflict between how they think they should be as a man and how they are. Men experiencing depression may find themselves fantasizing of what life would be like with a different woman or engaging in extramarital sex. They may be more prone to increase their use of alcohol or drugs. They may become more cynical or angry. Symptoms of depression in men can rear itself in varying manners, and can be easily overlooked by those who are less attuned to the unique characteristics of male depression.
What can lead to pppd? In order to encourage the male participation in caring for their newborns, the positive attributes of fathering have been emphasized, whereas the negative elements of caring for an infant have been downplayed. Doing so may have led us to overlook the emotional impact fathering has on men.
Along with many fathers, my own experience as a new dad required that I adapt to a change in my relationship with my wife. Men, more often than women, tend to rely on their wives as their primary social and emotional outlet. I could relate to this tendency in that my wife is the first person I turn towards to confide in and the first person I think of when planning an evening out. Rightfully so, our infant daughter demanded our attention. Sometimes when we felt like talking about something that mattered to us, be it trivial or of great importance, my daughter’s needs took precedence, and many conversations went unfinished or, unfortunately, untried. Whereas connecting as a couple prior to my daughter’s birth was fairly easy, it now took effort and planning.
In addition, like women, men have a need to be touched or to be physically close to their partner. Often women get their need for touch or physical closeness through nursing or holding their infant. For many men this connection between mother and baby can leave them feeling excluded. These types of changes in relationship to their partner can be difficult to maneuver and leave them void of adequate social and emotional outlets.
Men can also feel rejected by their newborn when their baby expresses a strong preference for Mom, or as in the case of my daughter, a VERY STRONG preference for Mom. As dads we’ve all been there…our baby is crying and being good dads we want to be helpful…we pick them up, change them, feed them, rock them, sing to them and after what feels like an eternity they’re still crying…and then mom steps in and almost instantly they are content and calmed. A lot of men can feel rejected by this, and although we know it isn’t true, dads are often left feeling as if their baby doesn’t like them or even hates them.
In addition to the social and emotional changes, dads are experiencing changes at the hormonal level as well. Whereas most are aware of hormonal changes in women during pregnancy and following birth, many do not know that during pregnancy men’s estrogen levels increase while testosterone decreases, and that immediately following birth, men’s cortisol (“the stress hormone”) increases.
The “perfect storm” of a man’s hormonal change, a women’s hormonal change, sleep deprivation, a spouse’s social and emotional unavailability, and an inconsolable infant (such as in the case of colic or acid reflux), mixed with additional risk factors (history of depression, financial problems, poor social supports, to name a few) can contribute to one or both experiencing ppd.
Living with depression untreated can have disastrous effects on your marriage and on your children, not to mention your own well-being. Children of depressed fathers with ppd are at a greater risk of experiencing emotional insecurity, oppositional defiance, and conduct disorders than children of non-depressed fathers. When both parents are depressed, which is often the case with ppd, parenting stress and marital dissatisfaction increases, and as stress and marital dissatisfaction increases so does the occurrence of separation and divorce.
Thankfully, pppd is treatable. Many men respond well to individual counseling when it is with a person they trust and feel understood by, and some men respond well to medications aimed at treating depression. Experiencing pppd is not a sign of weakness and seeking help does not represent a character flaw. Rather, recognizing that what you’re experiencing as legitimate and then doing something about it, such as going to counseling, for the sake of your well-being, your marriage, and your child demonstrates strength and courage…traits that are admirable in every man and dad.
If you or someone you know is experiencing pppd please seek help from a qualified health practitioner. For more information on pppd, its symptoms, risks, outcomes, treatment, self-assessment, and article references please visit: http://mullinscounseling.com/pppd/.
Craig Mullins is a husband, a father, and a professional counselor in Colorado Springs who offers both online and in-office sessions. He specializes in counseling for men, the women they love, and in treating paternal postpartum depression.