For many parents the birth of their baby is the happiest of experiences, all smiles, snuggles and sepia-hued snapshots. But for some, dipping their toes into parenthood, and all the life-changing unknowns that come with it, can trigger the onset of postnatal depression (PND)
But while there’s an awareness that mothers could be at risk of developing the mental health condition, you might be surprised to learn that dads can suffer from PND too.
In fact according to recent research as many as 1 in ten men are estimated to experience depression after the birth of their baby. And some experts believe the number of sufferers could be higher due to the fact that men are more likely to keep quiet about their symptoms.
Plus the fact that if men admit they’re suffering from postnatal depression, they’re likely met with a raised eyebrow or a flat out refusal to accept that PND can affect men too. The knock on effect means men face an uphill battle to get their suffering properly recognised.
This may be partly due to a lack of awareness and ability to spot signs and symptoms of the condition. But more likely it’s the reluctance of men to admit there’s a problem due to a fear of the stigma they could face and a perceived need for men to just, well, ‘man-up.’
There’s also the fact that it’s assumed PND is hormonal and therefore dads shouldn’t be affected, but as is the case for female sufferers hormones aren’t always to blame.
According to the NCT, just like with mums, there’s no single answer as to why some new dads are affected by PND and not others. In many cases depression is triggered by emotional and stressful events and there’s no doubt having a baby ticks both those boxes.
The increased pressures of new fatherhood, more financial responsibility, changes in relationships and lifestyle, combined with a lack of sleep and an increased workload at home, could all contribute to affecting a new dad’s mental wellbeing.
Previous mental health problems, being present at a traumatic birth, or having a partner with depression can also be contributing factors. In fact research from NCT found that almost three quarters (73%) of dads were worried about their partner’s mental health.
The symptoms for men suffering with PND are very similar to those of their female counterparts and can include feeling unable to cope, a sense of inadequacy, difficulty bonding with the baby, difficulty concentrating or making decisions and in some cases taking a lack of interest or pleasure in the baby.
In severe cases, some men can experience obsessive fears and suicidal thoughts.
Mark Williams is one such dad. Mark suffered postnatal depression for almost seven years after the birth of his son, in 2004.
Straight after the birth Mark experienced his first ever panic attack.
“It started after watching Michelle and the baby in the labour ward, thinking they were going to die and having a panic attack,” he tells Yahoo Style.
Soon afterwards his wife developed severe postnatal depression, which he believes could have been a contributing factor to his own mental health.
Struggling to cope with the pressures of looking after his wife and a new baby coupled with additional financial responsibilities, Mark began suffering from crippling depression.
“Michelle’s PND had an impact on me as I was looking after her after giving up work. I was having money worries and a mortgage to pay with total isolation not knowing if will ever end. I had never had depression before until this happened. All I wanted was Michelle to get well and I didn’t worry about myself during this time,” he explains.
The depression got so bad that Mark started having suicidal thoughts.
“I never actually made a plan but I was so low,” he continues. “It was like a mist over my brain and I couldn’t stop my mind from racing. It was the worse time of my life. Just getting out of bed felt like climbing a mountain.”
After years of suffering Mark ended up having a breakdown, which forced him to seek help. He credits CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), fitness and positive coping skills like mindfulness for helping his mental health get back on track.
In 2011, Mark founded Fathers Reaching Out to try to raise awareness of postnatal mental health and campaign for better support for new dads. Something he also cites as helping with his own recovery.
Now he wants to encourage any dads who are suffering to seek help as soon as possible.
“The quicker it is prevented, the quicker the recovery and the more time you’ll have to enjoy the rest of your life,” he says.
He also believes that both mothers and fathers should be offered support, particularly if either has a history of depression or anxiety.
“Sometimes only the father is struggling which can impact on the mother’s mental health, which unsupported can destroy the relationship and harm the bond and attachment they have with their baby,” he explains.
“Early prevention saves money and most importantly save lives. So many fathers are diagnosed with depression when the root of the problem was the in the first twelve months after birth, which means it’s likely postnatal depression,” he continues.
“We must have a holistic approach to perinatal mental health care. Male depression can look very different from female depression and we need to address that so it can be recognised earlier.”
The NCT says it’s vital that men are encouraged and supported to speak up about their experiences, if not to their partner, then to their family, friends or GP.
“We recognise the huge impact having a baby can have on dads as well as mums,” says Dr Sarah McMullen, Head of Research, NCT.
“Perinatal mental health issues can affect men or women so raising awareness of the specific concerns and questions that dads-to-be or new dads have is crucial. Dads sometimes feel uncomfortable about opening up about their feelings but we would encourage them to do so and seek the support they need.”
The NCT has the following suggestions to support positive mental wellbeing for all dads:
Share your feelings with people you trust. This could be your family or friends, a health professional or a counsellor.
Try to take some time for yourself by maintaining involvement in hobbies, exercise, or social activities, even an hour here or there can make a difference.
Take some exercise each day, like a walk with the buggy or swimming. Exercise can have a positive effect on mood and sense of wellbeing
Although many new parents experience mood changes or feel down some of the time, you may find that feelings of anxiety or low mood persist. If you have concerns about your own or your partner’s mental health, it’s best to seek help from your GP who can help you to access support services.
More information is available at www.nct.org.uk/dads-PND.
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