During my sixteen years practicing psychiatry I have treated dozens of men experiencing major depression after fathering a child. These men have come to my office with symptoms like low mood, tearfulness, decreased self-esteem, impaired sleep and decreased concentration. Some have even struggled with suicidal ideation. It was enough to make me suggest to my publisher a year or so ago that we consider my writing a book on male postpartum depression.
Now, my clinical experiences have been borne out by a scientific study from the Center for Pediatric Research at the Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk. Dr. James Paulson and his colleagues found that about 10 percent of new fathers displayed symptoms of major depression, far more than the three to five percent of men in the general population who suffer with the condition.
For the men I treated, becoming fathers represented far-ranging changes in their views of themselves. Many felt ill equipped psychologically or economically or both to be valuable to a child. For some, the birth of a child had made them dwell on their own fractured relationships with their dads. For others, becoming a father made them feel as though their sex lives would be forever changed or even non-existent, lost in the translation from coupling to parenting.
More study is needed here, but one thing is clear_ It's time for family physicians, obstetricians and pediatricians to be aware that post-partum depression affects mothers and fathers. That means that children can be impacted early on in ways not previously understood or even considered. The bonding necessary between mother and child has its counterpart in father-child bonding. When depression interferes, the man isn't the only one who suffers; so, too, does his son or daughter.
Here's the good news: Depression, including the postpartum variety, is highly treatable. The vast majority of patients recover fully. So lots of growing families can be helped by finding fathers for whom the joys of parenting are obscured by the shadow of a mental illness once thought to afflict only mothers.
Watch Dr. Ablow discuss this topic on America's Newsroom.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty," is a New York Times bestseller. Check out Dr. Ablow's Web site at www.livingthetruth.com
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team. Dr. Ablow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.