The idea of fatherhood is a joy in itself and a man looks forward to this new phase of life. But when a man freaks out, instead of being on cloud nine, at the good news of becoming a father, all is not well. When the father-to-be gets sleepless nights, when the thought of changing diapers makes him feel uneasy and when the thought of being able to be a good father becomes the biggest fear of his life, then he might be suffering from pre or postnatal depression.
Depression and anxiety are common among women during pregnancy and early parenthood, but even men face the risk of developing these problems. Up to one in 10 new dads can experience postnatal depression, studies suggest. The increased pressures of fatherhood, more financial responsibility, changes in relationships and lifestyle, combined with a lack of sleep and an increased workload at home, may affect a new dad’s mental well-being.
Depression in fathers-to-be can begin during the pregnancy period, which can increase gradually between six weeks and six months after the birth of the child. However, fathers tend to keep their situation under wraps and are not as vocal as the mothers. In such a scenario, getting clinical treatment is out of question. But it should be noted that this disorder can happen gradually or all of a sudden and can range from being relatively mild to very hard hitting.
Factors contributing to postnatal depression in men
There is a range of physical, social and emotional factors that contribute to the development of postnatal depression in men. Some factors are similar to both men and women which can include:
- lack of social and emotional support
- personality characteristics
- stress and changes in relationships (particularly the couple relationship)
- lack of sleep
- difficulty adjusting to the changes associated with the transition to parenthood
- unmet antenatal expectations
The factors that are specific to men include:
- impact of changing social roles – being a father to a child in a family
- attitudes towards fatherhood– men are less likely to talk about how they feel, and the feeling of coping with a situation such as child birth
- a change in family dynamics – some men might feel excluded from the parenting role or from the relationship with their partner, which can result in resentment towards the baby
- worries about extra responsibilities, financial burdens and managing work stress
- unmet expectations about having sex again in the early postnatal period
- pregnancy, particularly during the early stages. A man finds it extremely difficult to accept that he is going to be a father. This transition can be stressful because he has to understand the mental and physical changes his wife goes through, how supported and included he feels, his concerns about the to-be changes in his life, and the feeling of uncertainty about his role as a father.
Ways to cope with depression
A father-to-be can get more involved in his partner’s pregnancy. Accompanying the partner to the antenatal classes will boost his morale and help him prepare for the baby practically and emotionally. Going for all ultrasound sessions will also give a sense of happy feeling as he can see the baby grow step-by-step in the womb.
At the same time, he should try to look after his health and well-being. Some of the suggestions for supporting positive mental well-being are:
- He should start sharing his feelings with people he trusts. This could be his family or friends, a health professional or a counselor.
- Although many new parents experience mood changes or feel down some of the time, he may find the feelings of anxiety or low mood persist.
- He should try taking some time off for himself and indulge in hobbies, exercise or other social activities.
- Meeting other new dads can boost his confidence. Dad groups are becoming increasingly common these days and they serve as platform to share experiences, thoughts and answers to fatherhood related queries.
- It is important to avoid negative coping strategies, such as drinking too much or working too hard and staying away from home. He should try to be with the baby as much as possible so that he can start getting involved in its activities.
Pre and postnatal depression can be treated by a range of approaches like counseling and therapy, medication, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and being an active member of an accredited peer support group. However, the family can play an important role in helping the dad get ready for his child. Through love, support, and patience, families can ensure that their struggling dad can cope with the change and that the change is only for the good. Constant social support and encouragement from the spouse can be instrumental in helping the father enjoy parenting.
If you or your loved one is struggling with depression, it is time to seek medical assistance. The Depression Treatment Helpline is a free resource dedicated to helping those struggling with depression in finding appropriate depression treatment options. Chat online or call our 24/7 helpline at 866-619-7729 for more information.