When Dad Is Sad: Postpartum Depression In Men Must Be Taken More Seriously, Study Finds

LAS VEGAS — As many as 1 in 10 new dads suffer from postpartum depression (PPD), but how does the condition differ for men compared to women? A new study by researchers at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas finds six commonalities among fathers suffering from PPD, and ultimately highlights the need for better screening among new moms and dads.

Numerous studies have previously emphasized the significance of a father’s role in a child’s development. From having a higher IQ to stronger cognitive functioning to better overall behavior, children with proactive dads reap far greater benefits than those with absent fathers, researchers say. Yet for 5% to 10% of new fathers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the joys of fatherhood are a struggle thanks to postpartum depression. In fact, one previous study showed that 24% to 50% of fathers suffer from PPD if their partner suffers from it, too.

This latest experiment, led by UNLV professor Brandon Eddy, looked through blogs, websites, online forums, and chat rooms, finding dads who have written or talked about their struggles with PPD. The researchers identified six themes that need to be addressed to understand how to help new dads and moms with postpartum depression:

  • Many fathers didn’t know men could suffer from PPD. Women who noticed PPD symptoms in men didn’t know what to call it and frequently didn’t know how to help. Interestingly, these men report receiving “pushback” from the medical community when they sought out resources or asked about PPD symptoms, with most help catered to women.
  • Gender roles are influential. Men feel pressured into traditional “tough guy” roles, leaving them with few options to talk about what’s bothering them, and instead must “suck it up.”
  • Gender norms can lead to repressed emotions. Many new dads were reluctant to share how they truly feel because of fears of sounding weak or ridiculous, especially if their female partner was the breadwinner.
  • Dads become overwhelmed too, and are left unsure how to handle it. Some fathers expressed difficulties sharing their feelings of exhaustion, loneliness, or the sense that they’re trapped and have nowhere to turn. Such stress, the authors say, makes it harder to react lovingly to a baby’s cries, and instead the men grow more irritable.
  • Resenting the baby is a common PPD symptom, researchers found. Many fathers resented their new baby’s constant needs and the attention they have to pay them, and some admitted to having to fight the urge to hurt the baby or themselves.
  • Among the worst common bonds of postpartum depression in men was that new fathers often felt forgotten or neglected by their wives, doctors, and the rest of society. One person immediately recognized his own struggles with PPD — by listening to the screening questions from a clinician to his wife, and wondered why he wasn’t being probed: “I began to feel like someone should be asking me the same questions,” he said, according to a university release.

Some new fathers expressed frustration that there is no acceptable place or context where men can publicly show they’ve been challenged, let alone profoundly affected, by parenthood. While experts say women should be routinely screen for postpartum depression after giving birth, the authors say their work shows the same measures should be taken with men.

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“Because men are already less likely than women to seek professional help for depression, it is vital that the stigma of PPD decreases,” the authors write. “Because paternal involvement is a significant factor in the healthy development of children, it would seem wise to make information about paternal PPD more available in order to combat its negative impact on families.”

The study was published in the Journal of Family Issues.

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