As time progresses, we as a society have made great progress in understanding women’s emotional state following childbirth, especially in delicate areas such as postnatal depression, so much so that as a society we are able to better recognised early signs of struggles and are able to provide support much quicker and provide the necessary assistance to start addressing this issue.
Fathers on the other hand have been largely ignored in this arena, their expectations, worries, troubles and emotional well being has greatly been dismissed, with the ‘baby blues’ being attributed to expecting mothers. Recognising this, more research has been focusing on the mental health and emotional needs of expecting father, what’s interesting (or is it?) is that these studies have revealed that a large number of expecting dads is experiencing the same signs and worries as expecting mothers are when it comes to “baby blues.” Below we examine just just how one aspect of the baby blues can affect expecting and new dads. We look at some of the research findings, signs and explore what support and resources are available for dads experiencing baby blues.
Dads Suffering from Postnatal Depression (PND)?
Although limited, there have been some studies conducted suggesting that anywhere from 4-10% of men suffer from postnatal depression. However, a recent contribution from a Swedish research group shows that this figure may actually be a lot higher. Their results show that a staggering 28% of expecting fathers show at least mild levels of depression which can be linked to baby blues. Admittedly the surveyed group was relatively small (447 fathers), it’s quite clear that the issue is far bigger than previously thought. Perhaps the most worrying statistic of all, however, is that less than 20% of dads seek help to deal with their worries, anxiety and emotional well being.
A lot of societal pressure is put on expecting fathers, and as with and in most situations, dads are expected to be, or at least present as the ‘alpha male’ and display the ‘boys don’t cry’ attitude, so talking about and expressing emotional struggles and troubles, well that simply is just not a part of the equation. Taking into account that recent studies argue that parental postnatal depression affects and wellbeing of their child, this is not an issue is not one to put on the back burner, it needs to be closely examined, addressed and supported to foster and nurture a loving and supporting environment for parents and babies alike.
What factors impact on expecting Dads experiencing PND?
It’s difficult to pinpoint a one and/or a specific trigger affecting both mothers and fathers and their experiences of pre and postnatal depression. However with recent research and studies groups we have been able to formulate a list of the most common worries experienced by dads, which include:
- Financial worries: Bringing a new child into the world is a wonderful and exciting experience, however many dads worry about the additional financial stress. The costs of raising a child can be significant and some fathers understandably, worry about being able to provide for their child. These worries can become so overbearing that it causes high levels of anxiety.
- Becoming a father can be scary: More and added responsibilities, less sleep, the loss of freedom, and having someone looking up to you as a role model for some is just abundant. These feelings can bring a feelings of fear of not being able to be ‘good enough’, it’s when these feelings take over that a emotional problems creep in.
- Having twins. Having twins is a blessing, but it can’t be argued that it isn’t more challenging than a single child.Most fathers admit to feeling ‘lost’ when they have their first child, so have two at the same time for some father’s means double to worry and anxiety.
Your partner is suffering from PND. Parents often suffer together. If a mother has postnatal depression, studies show it is more likely the dads will also be suffering from PND; figures suggest that if your partner has PND, there is a 24-50% chance you yourself will be experiencing PND.\
- Changing society. Fathers of today are increasingly facing the same pressures that were in previous times thought to have been issues only faced by mothers, for example trying to combine being a dad with holding down a full-time job.
What’s the solution?
Perhaps the word ‘solution’ isn’t quite the right one, but there are ways in which we can improve the situation. For instance, firstly we must try to and identify (see signs of) depression in fathers, we must do this in a more precise and accurate manner than in the past, as we all know, men can be really good at hiding their feelings. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), has been an effective tool in identifying PND in women, perhaps, this same tool can help be an starting point of identifying PND in fathers also. Elisa Psouni, from the above mentioned Swedish study group, notes that fathers exhibit other signs, such as: anger, being irritable, a significant increase of alcohol use or abuse, staying at work later than usual (avoiding the family home more than usual), and showing signs of easy agitation.
To help fathers who are struggling, there are tried and tested support systems that are available. Cognitive behavioural therapy has proved to be a great source of support, for other father’s antidepressants have been helpful. Some report that simple changes in their daily routine, diet, and an increase in more exercise has been positive. Other dads identified that “talk therapy” has been surprisingly effective. Sometimes a simple phone call to family and friends asking for some help with babysitting so that parents can get some and much needed sleep, exercise or a date night might make all the difference.
It’s crucial that that parents maintain open lines of communication, the idea that both mums and dads are about to embark on a life-changing journey is critical and being honest about how that makes both of you feel is the first step to decreasing concerns. While nothing can truly prepare a dad for what’s to come, being aware of potential issues and challenges can minimise their effect.
What does the future look like?
On a global scale, we’ve made fantastic progress in giving fathers with almost equal rights in the parenting arena, with many countries now providing paternity leave as standard. The understanding of a dad’s mental health, on the other hand, is still lagging. Encouraging advances are being made and with greater investment and a willingness to explore this issue by means of medical and social studies, the future for fathers going through a challenging time following childbirth looks brighter than ever.
There are so many wonderful organisations such as the Gidget Foundation that looks after the emotional wellbeing of new parents by offering them a range of support services to cope wiht becoming new parents. To find out more information about the services they provide visit: https://gidgetfoundation.org.au
PNDA who also offers support to women and their families who are suffering from antenatal or postnatal anxiety or depression. For more information about PNDA visit: https://www.panda.org.au/pnda-week
Story by Susan Josh