Dads Get the Baby Blues, Too

Dear Mr. Dad: I have a 2-week old baby boy, and I’m crazy about him. But I’ve suddenly started feeling really anxious, stressed, irritable, and sometimes even angry. My girlfriend says I could be suffering from male postpartum depression. I’ve never heard of guys getting postpartum depression, is it possible? If so, what can I do about it?

A: Your girlfriend is absolutely right. Most of us have heard of new moms experiencing the “baby blues,” or actual postpartum depression, but few acknowledge that paternal postpartum depression is just as real. In fact, quite a few people ridicule the idea. It’s wonderful that your girlfriend is not one of them.

According to Will Courtenay, a psychotherapist specializing in male postpartum depression, as many as 1 in 4 new dads experience the kinds of symptoms you mentioned, in the days, weeks, and even months after the birth of a child. Unfortunately, men rarely discuss their feelings or ask for help, especially during a time when they’re supposed to “be there” for the new mom. One big problem is that men and women express depression differently. Women tend to get tearful, men get angry or withdraw from their family and retreat to the office. Because depression—including the postpartum kind—is usually seen as affecting women more than men, many mental health professionals don’t recognize the symptoms, or write them off as normal adjustment to the challenges of new parenthood.

Symptoms of male postpartum depression typically appear 1-3 weeks after the birth and can include:

  • Feeling stressed or irritable
  • Being discouraged
  • Strong aversion to hearing the baby cry
  • Resentment towards the baby or the attention he gets
  • Increased conflicts with others
  • Fatigue
  • Disappointment in yourself or belief that you should be feeling differently
  • Ongoing physical symptoms such as headaches

Untreated, it can cause marital conflicts, reckless or violent behavior, poor job performance, drug or alcohol abuse, and even thoughts of suicide. In addition, studies show that parental depression negatively impacts the children’s emotional and behavioral development.

While no one knows exactly what causes postpartum depression, some groups of men are more susceptible than others. The clearest link is if your partner is depressed herself, or if you have a personal history of depression. Other factors include financial problems, a poor relationship with your partner or parents, being unmarried, or if the pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted. Postpartum depression doesn’t discriminate based on socio-economic level or ethnicity. It typically affects first-time parents, but can occur after subsequent births even if there were no symptoms after the first child.

If after reading all of this, you suspect you may be experiencing postpartum depression, understand that it’s not a sign of weakness. It doesn’t make you a bad dad, or mean that you don’t love your son. Bottom line, it’s a recognized medical condition that affects hundreds of thousands of fathers. You’re not alone, and you shouldn’t have to suffer when treatment is available. If you aren’t sure, Will Courtenay’s website www.postpartummen.com, offers an anonymous survey that can clarify the issues, and a listing of good resources for getting help. The first step is to speak with a psychotherapist who is familiar with men’s depression and with whom you’ll feel comfortable and open.

Whatever you do, don’t sweep your feelings under the rug. Depression—regardless of what triggers it—is nothing to be ashamed of, and getting treatment is important. Don’t let depression rob you of the joys a new baby brings, ruin your relationships, or destroy your family.