Postpartum depression is well-known in women who have given birth. As many as 15 percent of new mothers may experience all the symptoms of major depression in the months following a delivery. These symptoms can include low mood, low energy, tearfulness, altered sleep patterns, changes in appetite, inability to concentrate, low self-esteem. They can even include suicidal thinking or bizarre and false beliefs called delusions, which are a form of psychosis.
Thankfully, awareness of postpartum depression in women has increased dramatically amongst clinicians and the general population.
What many fewer people realize is that new fathers can fall victim to postpartum depression, too. In my own practice I have seen it happen several times, and research indicates that perhaps 10 percent of men become acutely depressed in the postnatal period. Their symptoms mimic those of women with the disorder, but they may be even less likely to get help because they believe admitting to their suffering would make them look weak at a time when they want to be seen by others as especially strong.
In the men I have treated, the joys of having a new son or daughter have mingled with complex worries about whether they would be able to support larger families, whether they would lose the affection of their wives and whether they would be equal to the daunting task of being role models for their children. For some, becoming fathers seemed to bring them uncomfortably in touch with their own mortality, as they contemplated being survived by their offspring.
I have noticed a particular vulnerability to postpartum depression in new fathers who had strained or frankly painful relationships with their own dads. The recreation of a father-child bond, albeit in a different time and place, with a very new role, can bring a man into unbearably close contact with unresolved conflicts from his own childhood. "How am I supposed to be a father when I wasn't fathered at all myself?" one of my patients asked me.
Fortunately, postpartum depression in men responds to the treatments that relieve clinical depression in other settings. Psychotherapy can be invaluable, as can antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications. A new technologies, called rTMS (repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation), has also been approved by the FDA.
Using the tools in our therapeutic armamentarium, psychiatrists can defeat depression in over 90 percent of cases. That means that recognizing the signs and symptoms of the condition is half the battle.
So if you know a man struggling with his mood and his energy level weeks or months after his partner gives birth, don't assume it's all about staying up with the baby. Share what you now know about postpartum depression_ It doesn't just affect new mothers.