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Postnatal Depression in Men: How to Spot the Warning Signs

Written by Melissa Robertson

Could your partner be suffering from postnatal depression? Take a look at the signs you could be missing in a condition that affects up to 50 percent of new dads. 

Megan had no idea her husband had a history of depression when she became pregnant with their first child together. She certainly did not know that her partner’s depression manifested itself in the use of drugs and sexual promiscuity. Yet two weeks after the birth of her first daughter, she found out her husband was using cocaine and seeking other women online.

Unfortunately, Megan’s story is not unusual. Postnatal depression/anxiety affects about 10 percent of fathers and that number can rise to 25-50 percent if their partner is also experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety (PPD/PPA).

Paternal Postnatal Depression is a term that describes a new father who becomes depressed after the birth of his child. Depression symptoms can show up quickly after the birth of the child or take up to a year to begin.

Postnatal depression can be hard to spot because it doesn’t always manifest as crying or sadness, said Dr. Will Courtenay, the “Men’s Doc” who has a practice in Oakland, CA.

“Depression in men doesn’t always look like depression. It can look like irritability and anger, working constantly, drinking or gambling too much, or having an affair. These are some of the ways men can experience and cope with depression differently than women.”

While symptoms of PPD can vary, here are some signs to look for:

-Isolation from friends and family members

-Easily stressed, frustrated and irritated

-Significant weight loss or gain

-Increase in the use of street/prescription drugs or alcohol

-Anger and increased conflict with others

-Loss of interest in sex

-Increased impulsivity (can include extramarital affairs)

-Feeling sad and crying for no reason

-Loss of motivation and concentration

-Struggling with masculinity

-Suicidal thoughts

 Depression after loss

These symptoms are something that Brian has become very familiar with. After struggling with infertility after the birth of their first son, his wife Andrea became pregnant and then suffered a devastating miscarriage. While his wife was able to grieve and move on, Brian found himself suffering in silence.

“I shut down,” he said. “I wouldn’t talk to my friends. I would go home and I wouldn’t talk to Andrea.I just wasn’t me. I would cry at night. I would cry in the car.”

Brian said that the first six months after the loss of their baby was the hardest in his relationship. There was a loss of intimacy and he even considered leaving the marriage.

“I felt angry that I could have done something different. I didn’t support her enough.”

 What causes postnatal depression?

While there are a number of possible causes of postnatal depression, lack of sleep plays a large role. According to Dr. Courtenay:

it only takes a normal healthy adult one month of sleep deprivation to begin to develop clinical signs of depression.

Hormonal changes can also play a role. While this is often thought of being an issue with new mothers, fathers will also experience a hormonal change during pregnancy and after the birth of their child.  Men will experience a drop in testosterone and a rise in estrogen. There are also changes in the levels of prolactin (best known to help mammals produce milk), cortisol (controls blood sugar and memory function) and vasopressin (it tells your kidneys how much water to conserve).

“These hormonal changes can really wreak havoc on a man’s life,” says Dr. Courtenay. “This in combination with the neurochemical changes that occur in the brain as a result of sleep deprivation can combine to create the perfect storm that we see a peak in the 3 to 6 month period.”

Postpartum depression is also linked with the baby being unplanned or unexpected, the father unhappy about the gender of the baby, the baby having health problems or being colicky, the baby having breastfeeding or bottle-feeding problems, and the father being young. Some other possible causes include a history of depression, a rocky relationship with his partner, and economic problems or stress.

Finding some support

It took Brian two years to finally reach out for help. He decided to share his experience during Bell Let’s Talk Day and had several male members of his union reach out and share similar experiences. From there he was able to seek counseling and join a support group called Celebrate Recovery in his church.

Megan’s husband John* was also able to seek support. Although he wasn’t formally diagnosed as having PPD, his doctor noted that the birth of his baby was the catalyst to his depression. He attended five weeks of counseling through the Salvation Army as well as a court-ordered program after a domestic violence charge. Megan says her husband doesn’t believe he has depression, and also refuses to take his medication choosing instead to use marijuana to self-medicate.

“He doesn’t want to be seen as weak,” she says.

While counseling has helped Brian with his grief, he still struggles emotionally.

“If I see a pregnant friend or family member I still get very upset.”

Speaking up to others is just one way that the Pacific Post Partum Society suggests to help with PPD/PPA in new fathers.

Other ways to help alleviate the symptoms include:

-Seek other new parents to talk with and share support

-Take time for yourself to relax and enjoy favourite hobbies

-Connect with your partner daily, even if only for a few minutes

-Accept the fact that you cannot fix everything

-Take time off work if possible

-Find someone you trust to speak to. It can be your partner, a friend, colleague or counselor

-Eat well and exercise to stay healthy

-Call the Pacific Post Partum Support Society



*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Parent Life Network or their partners.