Is it time we talked about men’s mental health and pregnancy?
Postnatal depression is a condition that we often associate with women’s mental health. It’s not surprising that new mums face mental health challenges; the physical, hormonal, and psychological impact of bringing a child into the world is huge. But becoming a parent is a significant mental upheaval for dads too. According to a research review in 2016, 8% of men suffer from postnatal depression, with many going undiagnosed. Men are also more likely to turn to drink, drugs or other unhealthy behaviours in order to cope with depressive symptoms. We take a closer look at the causes, symptoms, and treatments for male postnatal depression, below.
What are the symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety in men?
New dads may experience feelings of sadness, numbness or helplessness. These can be driven by a difficult labour experience, in which they felt unable to help their partner or worried that they or their child would come to significant physical harm. Dads can also be impacted by the often immediate and strong bond between mum and baby as they establish a breastfeeding routine. Fathers can sometimes feel left out and unsure how to establish their own bond with this new family member.
These are some of the key symptoms of postnatal depression to be aware of:
• Sadness and low mood
• Increased feelings of anger
• High-risk behaviours – including alcohol and drug misuse
• Easily stressed or overwrought
• Significant weight change
• Isolating themselves from family and friends
• Losing interest in work and hobbies
• Decreased sex drive
• Headaches and stomach upset
• Lack of desire to hold or interact with the new baby
• Self-harm compulsion or suicidal thoughts
If you are experiencing these symptoms, particularly thoughts of self-harm and suicide, it’s important to seek immediate medical advice.
Do dads undergo hormonal changes too?
Researchers have discovered that men undergo significant hormonal changes after the birth of a child. Dads experience a decrease in testosterone, alongside increases in oestrogen, oxytocin, prolactin, and glucocorticoids. These hormonal changes follow a similar pattern to the shifts seen in new mothers, and scientists have theorised that this is a biological function to promote bonding between father and child. From an evolutionary perspective, this would ensure dads protect the newest addition to their family against outside threats. However, a sudden shift in hormonal levels can throw up difficult emotions, and it’s thought that these biological changes could contribute to postnatal depression in men.
Are some men more at risk of post-natal depression?
Yes. There are several factors that can increase the likelihood of being affected by postnatal depression. These can include age, mental health history, and support network. If any of the below apply to you, you may be more at risk of postnatal depression.
• Under 25
• Previous episodes of depression and anxiety
• Family history of mental health issues
• Financial worries
• Limited or poor support network
• Stressful labour
• Ongoing relationship issues
• History of insomnia/ sleep issues
Even if you have no previous risk factors, the arrival of a new baby is a huge mental and emotional life event. Anyone, from any walk of life, can suffer postnatal depression. So, if you are struggling to process your emotions after the arrival of your little one, make sure you reach out for help. The NHS Choices website has an online screening tool for men who feel they may be suffering from depression.
How can you manage the symptoms of postnatal depression?
If you’re suffering from postnatal depression, it’s important to practice self care in conjunction with any professional support you may be receiving. This often means taking time and space to process your emotions and accepting there is no ‘right’ way to feel when you become a new dad. It’s also important to maintain a healthy routine, even if you lack motivation. This means ensuring you follow a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and try to get a decent amount of sleep. This is unlikely to be something you can tackle alone, so reach out to friends and family for support, alongside your GP.
What treatments are available for men suffering from postnatal depression?
Your GP may be able to refer you to a self-help course, support group, or therapist to manage postnatal depression. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is a common therapeutic treatment for this type of mental health issue. You may also be prescribed with a short course of antidepressants to help you overcome the worst of the symptoms.
Are there any organisations that support dad with postnatal depression?
There are a number of dedicated organisations and charities that support both men and women who are living with postnatal depression. PANDAS is a pre and postnatal advice and support organisation who offer a dedicated helpline for parents who are struggling with mental health issues. The Fatherhood Institute is a charity that works with families and advocates for policy change to recognise the issues that affect dads across the UK. Their website has a wealth of further information on dads and postnatal depression.