Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Men's Postpartum Depression: Myth or Reality?

It's only been in recent years that society has accepted the fact that a substantial number of new mothers become depressed in the weeks and months after the arrival of their babies. Growing evidence is mounting that new fathers also experience nearly the same type of postpartum depression as their partners. They, too, can feel a sense of stress and depression when transitioning into their new parental responsibilities.

Men have traditionally been viewed as the "rock" of the family, and of society itself - unable to express emotion or admit weakness, feeling only a drive for power and success. That old-world mindset is rapidly changing. Men are becoming empowered to admit their true feelings on issues their forefathers wouldn't have dared to address, including the depression they sometimes feel following the birth of a child.

I recently interviewed men's mental health professional, Dr. Will Courtney, to unearth some valuable insight on this condition that often plagues new fathers. He shared this: "So often, parents expect this experience of "baby bliss" that everyone suggests parenting is going to be like. Then, suddenly, this screaming, helpless infant is in their laps and they don't know what to do to calm this baby or soothe it. Suddenly, things start feeling a lot more difficult than they ever expected."

A rising social mindset is allowing new fathers to express their feelings more truthfully. This is finally shedding light on paternal postnatal depression, unrecognized until now.
For both sexes, parenthood is a life-altering event. Couples are turned into threesomes in the short amount of time that it takes the baby to be born. Although most men report feeling satisfied with being a father, they also report that making this transition can be quite daunting. In its most severe state, men's postpartum depression (also known as Paternal Post-Natal Depression) may necessitate help from a mental health professional who is sensitive to the needs of new fathers and understands the condition.

Sadness, loss of interest, and crying - symptoms that might accompany a new mom during postpartum depression are not atypical of the new father undergoing the same issues and dealing with postpartum depression. Men are notorious for masking their true feelings, so a man's outward signs may be a bit hard to detect. The best clues to a possible onset of the condition are signs that something has changed in a challenging way, or a feeling that something isn't quite "right" in his behavior.

According to Dr. Courtney, men may try to avoid parenting and new fatherhood altogether, a sort of "out of sight out of mind" mentality. "I'm hearing a lot from new dads about the experience of not being able to tolerate being around the baby. They can't stand the baby's cries, the screaming; they say it makes them crazy. Or, they can't stand to smell the baby, or to even see it or hold it. Typically, men feel horribly guilty about feeling that way, and also very confused because this is not what they were told to expect with the birth of their child. All they really know to do is to try to get away from the thing that is kind of making them feel all of these things. They end up spending as much time as they can at the office."

Before, during, or after the pregnancy, both new fathers and new mothers can begin to plan for possible postpartum depression by:

  • Understanding the condition from both the father's and the mother's point of view, and accepting that postpartum depression is NOT just an "old wives' tale."
  • For those new parents or parents-to-be with a history of depression, beginning mental health counseling before the baby arrives is recommended.
  • Open up lines of communication within the couple's relationship. Many couples have problems when it comes to communicating their feelings with one another.
  • Couple's counseling during pregnancy may be necessary to better understand the issues you might have and develop more confidence in the new partnership you are about to enter.
  • Although it is not practical to resolve all of your financial problems before having children, be aware that many of the problems that families experience are related to their finances. Establish a working budget before, during, or after the pregnancy in order to alleviate some of the stressors in the family.
  • Establish a reliable network of support that you can turn to when you need a hand, whether it is with babysitting, shopping, or other duties.

    The most important thing for new fathers and mothers to understand when it comes to postpartum depression is that it is a completely natural condition that millions of other new parents have gone through. With appropriate treatment and counseling, parenthood will feel more natural to both of you, and you will finally be able to relax and enjoy your new bundle of love.