Post Partum Depression (PPD), the sadness and anxiety that descends upon some mothers after giving birth, may affect many new fathers too. Researchers at Eastern Virginia Medical School analyzed 43 studies and reported that up to 10% of fathers could suffer PPD. Reported in Journal of the American Medical Association last week, this figure is double the average risk (5%) of depression found in the male population in general.
"It is surprising and novel that the rate is much higher than most people would guess or expect," says study author James Paulson. "This is a condition that is not recognized by many folks. Postpartum in men is an alien concept to most people."
Paulson says that fathers are just as susceptible as women to these common PPD triggers:
- stress and anxiety associated with fatigue
- lack of sleep
- changes in the marital relationship
- concerns about finances and work.
PPD can affect any parent, but especially first time mothers and fathers. Paulson pointed out that the analysis did not isolate the specific factors responsible for PPD in men, but he theorizes that they included the known risks for new mothers and maybe other reasons as well—reasons that are both unique to dads and as yet unstudied. But fathers may not have any idea that their overwhelming emotions have a name.
"A lot of changes are going on with fathers too, so it's reasonable to expect that they might not recognize depression when they experience it," Paulson said.
But Is This Really Depression?
So… if a man is depressed and he doesn’t know it, is he really all that sad? It seems contradictory to me that we are told over and over how Depression with the Big D is not “all in your head,” that there are chemical forces at work—chemical forces that often require pharmaceutical intervention. And yet, here we are with a new study of studies that seems to conclude that yes, men are just as stressed out about making sure the baby stays alive and, more important, stops crying, as women are. Obviously caring for an infant on two hours of sleep can dampen one’s mood, but is there really anything going on with men’s actually biology after a baby is born?
Researchers also found that symptoms of PPD were most common among American men. They attributed this to “cultural differences and varying paternity-leave policies in the workplace.” Again, this seems to downplay the actual physical reasons so many women suffer PPD.
According to Time:
It's worth noting that most of the studies did not track cases of clinical depression diagnosed by a physician, but instead recorded the incidence of depressive symptoms through questionnaires or interviews. Some experts believe these measures tend to overestimate the actual rate of depression; others believe they are often a useful harbinger of underlying, undiagnosed illness.
Not to minimize male PPD, but feeling down is not the same as PPD. Postpartum depression, as opposed to the less severe “baby blues,” as defined by the Mayo Clinic can be recognized by the following symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Intense irritability and anger
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Loss of interest in sex
- Lack of joy in life
- Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Severe mood swings
- Difficulty bonding with the baby
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby
In addition to emotional factors and lifestyle influences, the Mayo Clinic credits physical changes with the onset of PPD, including a dramatic drop in estrogen and progesterone, decreased hormones produced by the thyroid gland, changes in blood volume, blood pressure, immune system and metabolism.
Having a baby is hard. And, all other things being equal, women are still more likely to have a solid physical reason for being depressed. So, guys, if at all possible, we really need you not to be.