Postpartum Depression in Men

parents and newborn

When most people think of postpartum depression, they usually think of the sadness, hopelessness, and difficulty with childcare that mothers sometimes experience soon after giving birth.  It is usually caused by changes in hormone levels associated with pregnancy.  However, research show that men can also experience depression soon after becoming a parent.

Recent studies shows that 8-13% of men can get postpartum depression.

These numbers are very striking consider only 5% of the male population has depression.  The exact cause is unknown, but maternal postpartum depression is associated with hormonal changes, so scientists think that similar hormonal changes may cause paternal postpartum depression as well.  In fact, after childbirth, men can experience a reduction in their testosterone levels because of the new demands and responsibilities that come with being a new father.

Testosterone is associated with aggression, competition, and sex drive, but these traits are not particularly useful when it comes to raising children.  A common misconception is that, evolutionarily, it was the female’s job to deal with childcare, but males were actually also expected to play a role in raising children.  Studies show that men with higher testosterone levels are more likely to find a partner and then become a father, but they then experience dramatic decreases in their testosterone levels.

man suffering from postpartum depression Men without children also saw a reduction in testosterone level as they got older, but it only went down by about 13%. Men with children, however, saw a drop of about 26-34% (depending on whether testosterone was measured in the morning or evening).  Additionally, the more time men spent with their babies, the lower their testosterone levels were, but the levels might increase a little bit as their child got older.  On the other hand, high testosterone levels in fathers is correlated with marriage problems and with feeling less sympathy towards a crying baby, so reduced testosterone is usually beneficial for new fathers.

However, a decrease in testosterone is also associated with loss of sex drive, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, depression, and anxiety.  These feelings can be temporary, but they can also trigger serious clinical depression or anxiety.  Additionally, new fathers are at risk of mood disorders due to a number of risk factors.  These factors include the fact that they are often stressed about childcare, they rarely get sufficient sleep, and their partner can be suffering from similar problems.  There are other common factors that can increase the likelihood of postpartum depression, including a history of depression, low social support, and low relationship satisfaction.

Men might not realize that they too should be looking out for symptoms, but paternal postpartum depression can be serious.  There are a number of symptoms of postpartum depression, including sadness, loss of hope, despair, inability to take care of your new baby, inability to work or do chores, crying a lot and for no reason, trouble bonding with your baby, changes in eating habits, less interest in sex, inability to take care of yourself, getting too much sleep, difficulty focusing, trouble with learning, and memory loss.  Postpartum depression can also turn into psychosis.  Symptoms of postpartum psychosis are inability to sleep, confusion, difficulty thinking clearly, hallucinations, delusions, obsessive and fearful thoughts about your baby, paranoia, refusal to eat, thoughts of self-harm, and thoughts of harming your baby.

Additionally, paternal postpartum depression can also cause problems with your child’s cognitive, emotional, and behavioral development. In fact, studies show that paternal postpartum depression can more adversely affect your child’s mental health than maternal postpartum depression can.  Postpartum depression is also associated with relationship problems and it can increase the likelihood that your partner will get postpartum depression.

man with postpartum depression seeking treatment from therapistLuckily, if you seek a treatment plan that works for you, then your symptoms can improve.  Depression is usually treated with individual therapy and antidepressants.  However, some studies show that your partner can also help you with postpartum depression, so couples therapy may also be beneficial.  Most women with postpartum depression prefer some form of therapy over antidepressants, but very little research has been done to show the treatment options that men prefer.

The results of one study did indicate that men also preferred individual therapy or couples therapy.  They saw therapy as more reliable than medication, especially when it came to individual therapy.  Interestingly, men with depression that is not associated with fatherhood often prefer medication.  This discrepancy might be related to the fact that most studies on men with other forms of depression are focused on older men.

Since fathers tend to be younger adults, they may have differing treatment preferences.

It is also possible that their preference for therapy has to do with the abrupt social changes that occur when becoming a father.  Another suggestion about the discrepancy is that the study on paternal postpartum depression was focused on men who had a higher education.  There is a link between education and a man’s willingness to try therapy sessions, so men with postpartum depression who have less education might actually feel that medication is the best treatment option for them.

Regardless of what your treatment preferences might be, you should never ignore any of the signs of depression.  Even if you never end up experiencing paternal postpartum depression, your partner might experience maternal postpartum depression, so you should still be aware of the symptoms so that you can be there for her.  The chances that you will become depressed increase if your partner is already depressed, so try to make sure that parenthood does not have too much of a negative impact on the psychological health in your home.

You may not have realized that men too are susceptible to postpartum depression, but fathers are also at risk.  Indeed, men are twice more likely to be depressed after becoming a father than they are during the rest of their lives.  The side effects may be extremely detrimental to you, your partner, and even your baby.  However, your symptoms can improve and clear up as long as you know to talk to your partner about it and to seek out help from your healthcare providers.

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