Many of my friends have recently transitioned to parenthood and one common theme they’ve expressed to me is how hard and sometimes even depressing this transition can be. We’ve of course heard of women experiencing postpartum depression, and many people think that only women experience feelings of sadness, loneliness, frustration, anxiety, and mourning after having a baby. The truth is that babies are huge stressors for the entire family and this mental health issue can significantly impact fathers as well. Paternal Post-Natal Depression (PPND) affects 1 in 10 men and usually presents differently than it does in women. This number jumps to a whopping 68% within the child’s first five years. That's simply a huge amount of the male population struggling with mental health issues! Men are more likely to experience PPND through symptoms of irritability, anger, tiredness, anxiety, and isolation.
This isolation is particularly worrying because while there are many supports for women who experience postpartum depression, cultural norms still often place men in the role of provider, so men tend to start working even more. There is less talk around the emotional changes in men post-baby and thus fewer resources for these fathers. Although there are new parent groups, these groups are primarily made up of women, so many new fathers simply don't feel comfortable going there to receive support. Our society tends to exclude new fathers from resources, conversations, and support as we tend to focus on the new mothers. Inside the home, breastfeeding inherently creates bonding time between mom and baby. Many fathers tend to feel ‘useless’ and ‘shut out’, which can result in men feeling even more isolated.
This isn’t just environmental, however. Most people equate postpartum with hormone changes in women. These hormone changes are very real for fathers as well. PPND is associated with lower testosterone, which is correlated with depressive symptoms.
So, PPND is ‘real’. Stigma against men experiencing postpartum tends to lead to men trying to stifle their feelings and this can make these feelings even worse in the long run. There is often a sense of shame for not enjoying the whole experience of being a parent, and embarrassment or shame in admitting this. And no one ever talks about new parents experiencing these negative feelings, despite this being a perfectly normal and expected response to devoting your whole life to another human being that can only cry, poop and eat!
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Therapy is a safe space to be able to explore and make sense of these feelings, so if you or your partner are experiencing a harder time being new parents that you thought, give us a call. We're here to support you.