It has been reported that up to 80% of women go through some form of emotional letdown (the “baby-blues”) after giving birth, and about 10% experience severe postpartum depression. However, it turns out that a fair number of men are also susceptible to postpartum depression to the extent that it can be significantly disruptive to their lives and the lives of their families.
One study out of England, published in the Lancet, studied 26,000 parents and found that within 8 weeks after childbirth, up to 4% of the fathers reported having significant symptoms of emotional letdown. Even still, postpartum depression is considered by most of us as something that only affects mothers.
This may be rooted in the fact that the emotional responses can be so different between men and women. The enormous sense of responsibility that is born (no pun intended) out of becoming a new father can exacerbate an already difficult circumstance, leading men to feel anxious about their loss of identity as well as their ability to be a good father and support their family. This situation is compounded by the fact that men are not always brought up to seek out assistance or outwardly express their emotions, and may be in denial of a problem.
In addition to the sociological influences, however, there may in fact be a physiological basis for fatherly blues that directly affects the brain. Animals studies have revealed that new fathers actually experience biological changes in the region of the brain that has been linked to parental behavior in animals.
There is also some evidence that during the nine months when their partners are pregnant, men can experience a drop in testosterone levels, perhaps enabling them to better bond with their families by tempering their aggression. Lower testosterone in middle aged men is believed to predispose them to depression.
And finally, there is a strong indication that men are more susceptible to depression when their partners are depressed. This impairs their ability to fill in and support a mother whose own situation is compromising her to optimally care her for her newborn.
This, in turn, can lead to developmental problems for the child. While there have not been studies done examining families with two depressed parents, maternal postpartum depression has been linked to adverse emotional and behavioral effects in boys and girls, while the paternal condition appears to adversely affect behavior in boys.
Whatever be the case, it is clear that postpartum depression is not the sole provenance of new mothers, and increasing awareness is opening up a world of treatment options to help men be better fathers. If you suspect that you or your partner is suffering from depression, seek the advice of a mental health professional. For more information, check out the website for the National Institute for Mental Health or Depression.com.