Postnatal depression in fathers

For both women and men, having a baby and becoming a parent is mentally demanding, existentially challenging, and an emotional rollercoaster. Having to cope with the upheaval and all the new thoughts that crop up, can lead to postpartum, or postnatal depression (PND).

Men can be hit as hard as women, and the distress may be so intense that help is needed to come out of the initial crisis. It may seem paradoxical that negative feelings take over at a time when the thrill of fatherhood is so intense.

If you can relate to these negative feelings as a father
It is important to understand that this reaction is a sign that you need to come to terms with how your life has changed, and basically that you have some catching up to do emotionally and spiritually. This is a very human need. Postnatal depression, or PND, is characterised by the same thoughts, feelings, reactions and symptoms as any other form of clinical depression. The difference being that it is bound up with the experience of becoming a parent.

PND in men may present itself differently than in women
Men may have slightly different symptoms to women affected by postnatal depression. Women typically suffer overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and guilt. Men may suffer the same feelings, but also show reactions such as loss of stress threshold, misuse of substances such as alcohol, untoward rages, anxiety and withdrawal.

Excessive working may be a symptom
Becoming a father may result in a sudden, excessive focus on work outside the home, and, more than anything, a complete refusal to accept offers of help. It is not uncommon for fathers themselves and those around them to fail to realise that the underlying reason for this behaviour is a depression. It is easier to assume that the guy is the problem, rather than it being the guy who has a problem. Men suffering depression may also be affected by a sense of powerlessness in being trapped and tied.

Men may be afraid of losing control
The strain of having to live up to the new responsibility may be manifested as anxiety about whether something might be wrong with the baby, about baby's reactions or anxiety about separation from the little one. There have been cases of men who were afraid of losing control and harming their babies, or who suffer under the delusion that the child, by its very existence, is going to harm them.

Seeking help is a sign of strength
In most cases, men are well aware that their thoughts and feelings are irrational. This, in turn, just adds to the frustration. It may be difficult to recover from PND without professional help.

If, as a new dad, you have any of these symptoms, you should seek professional help. You can get help by seeing a psychologist. This is a good step in getting to know yourself better, to get you over the crisis and ultimately achieve a mindful and caring connection to both your child and to yourself as a responsible parent.

Further reading: Postnatal depression in mothers.  At home with your baby – follow-ups and discussions and Baby blues after childbirth, which is a milder form of postnatal depression.

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