You’ve definitely heard about postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety in women, but did you know 1 in 10 dads struggle with paternal depression? It’s true. Fathers can experience depressive symptoms as early as the third trimester of pregnancy. While there is certainly a lack of awareness about this mental health condition, this article discusses the symptoms and causes, including strategies for paternal depression for any dads struggling with their mental health while expecting the birth of their child.
What Is Paternal Depression?
Even though its prevalence is lower than mothers, it’s not uncommon for fathers to also become depressed during their partner’s pregnancy. Paternal depression is a mental health condition that affects both new and experienced fathers during or after their partner’s birth. A study by the American Journal of Men’s Health found that 13.3 percent of fathers showed signs of depression during their partner’s third semester of pregnancy. Another study found fathers also experience postpartum depression three to six months after the baby is born. It’s important, therefore, to bring increased awareness to this condition not only to meet the father’s individual needs but because their mental health can also negatively impact the mother and child.
What Are the Symptoms of Paternal Depression?
If you’re worried you or a loved one may have paternal depression, here are a few symptoms you need to be aware of;
- Frustration or irritability
- Difficulty managing stress
- Lack of motivation
- Isolation from loved ones
- Sadness and/or crying
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Feeling discouraged
- Increased fatigue or insomnia
- Substance abuse
- Impulsive risk-taking
- Lack of pleasure
- Cynicism and general negative outlook
What Causes Paternal Depression?
Like maternal postpartum depression, several social, biological, and environmental factors make fathers more vulnerable to paternal depression.
- Social factors include limited intimacy with the mother and difficulty bonding with the child.
- Biological factors include personal or family history of depression and hormonal changes like decreased testosterone – dads also experience changes in hormone levels after a baby arrives.
- Environmental factors include increased financial stress, excessive workload, sleep deprivation, stress leaving the child for work, and men who grow up without a positive male role model.
7 Self Help Strategies for Paternal Depression
1. Acknowledge your feelings
Due to unhealthy social gender expectations and stereotypes, it’s common for many fathers to ignore their feelings, not understand what they’re going through, and shutdown as a result. But instead of bottling up your feelings, it’s important to acknowledge how you feel. If you feel conflict about how you think you should feel, know that it’s okay to experience depression. Normalizing paternal depression and acknowledging your feelings is critical in making you feel safe to open up to others.
2. Communicate with your partner
A common symptom of paternal depression is isolation. You may feel inclined to push away from your partner and bury your feelings. Unfortunately, this causes tension and can lead to increased problems within your relationship. Even though you may fear rocking the boat, it’s better to vent your concerns rather than keep everything inside. Try explaining how you feel, your fears about adjusting to parenthood, or any other worry you have. If that doesn’t work, couples counselling is a wonderful option that can strengthen your relationship, including providing extra support to treat your depression.
3. Seek support
If you’re depressed, you may play and engage less with your children, struggle to connect with your partner, and even harshly act out against your family without meaning to. Therefore, if you notice any of these signs, it’s important to seek support, either professionally, through a support group online or in person, or through friends and family. Especially following the birth of a child, receiving support for you and your partner will decrease stress, give you a positive outlet to vent your concerns, and provide awareness of what is happening within you.
4. Avoid negative coping mechanisms
It may be tempting to increase your alcohol usage or gamble as a response to your depression. But these behaviors will actually make you feel worse and lead to increased problems at home. While it is challenging, especially since pleasure-enhancing behaviors provide short-term relief, try to focus on your wellbeing during this time. Engage in anything positive and healthy that relaxes you. For example, eating well, exercising, taking a yoga class and resting when possible will help you cope.
5. Reduce stress
Life makes it quite difficult to manage stress, especially while preparing for a new baby or adjusting to parent stressors. But while your partner is pregnant, try to remove stress from your life. Evaluate how your current personal and professional life affects you, and consider areas where you can set boundaries and prioritize your mental health. This might look like decreasing your workload, reaching out to loved ones for help, or adopting time management or health-focused habits.
6. Take care of your child and yourself
Prioritizing the relationship with your child is one of the most important self-help strategies for paternal depression. When you care for your child, it increases bonding and even helps you value yourself more. If you’re experiencing depression after your child is born, remember that the best gift you can provide is love and compassion. Start daily skin-to-skin cuddles and take every opportunity for your child to lay on your chest. Hearing your heartbeat, feeling your skin, and even smelling you provide increased bonding. You can even start before they’re born. When they’re in the womb, start playing your favorite songs, talk to them about future plans and anything you want to share – it strengthens bonding.
7. Patience is key
If you’re experiencing paternal depression, you may notice your mood is up and down. You may also become discouraged by how long it’s taking you to adjust. But adjusting to a new baby is a process that takes time and requires patience. Therefore, it’s important to be kind to yourself and your partner and know that you’re doing the best you can. Setting too high of expectations for how bonding with your child should go or how quickly you think it should take to bounce back into a routine will make things worse. Try to be gentle towards yourself as you adjust to your new life.
When to Seek Help
Your mental health challenges may feel disguised as new parent jitters. They, therefore, may be undetected by yourself, your partner, your family, and even your doctor. It’s important to bring attention to yourself, check in with your needs, and seek support. If you feel like your mental health is affecting your daily functioning, including bonding with your child, communicating with your partner, and taking care of yourself, speak with a mental health professional.
Connecting with your community and loved ones will also help relieve stress and positively impact your wellbeing. Remember, adjusting to parenthood is a process and requires patience, compassion, and self-forgiveness. If you’re struggling, use this guide and follow any of these strategies for paternal depression to help you adjust better.
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