1 IN 10 FATHERS IS AFFECTED BY POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION
Depression during pregnancy and early parenthood doesn’t just affect new moms – fathers are also at risk. If you have recently become a father, or are about to become, we have information and resources to help you deal with stress and take care of yourself.
Any parent will tell you that raising kids is the most fulfilling thing they have ever done - and the most demanding. They’ll probably also tell you that things can feel hardest at the beginning when it’s all new and while you are still figuring out how to change a diaper.
And while we all recognize how hard things can get for mothers, it’s important to cut yourself some slack and realize that fathers are in the thick of it too.
There will be times when you have no idea what to do. You won’t get much sleep. You’ll spend half your paycheck on diapers and a crib that takes you four hours and lots of swearing to assemble. And we are sure that even when you’re exhausted, broke and have no time for yourself, you wouldn’t change it for the world.
But if you’re finding your new father's life harder than you expected, you’re not the only one. It’s a tough gig – one that can feel chaotic and relentless at times.
DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY IN NEW FATHERS
Most people are aware that depression and anxiety may have an effect on new mothers, but did you know that fathers are also at risk? Almost 50 percent of fathers aren’t aware of this fact.
And while anxiety during pregnancy and after the birth of a baby isn’t as well recognized as depression, we know it’s likely to be just as common among new parents.
ARE YOU AT RISK?
Ask yourself how many of the following apply to you:
Have you had depression and/or anxiety before?
Does your partner have postpartum depression and/or anxiety?
Do you have a lack of practical, emotional or social support?
Are you feeling the burden of financial stress?
Did you support your partner through a difficult birth?
Do you have current or past issues with drugs or alcohol?
Is your baby unwell?
Are you going through major life changes and/or relationship difficulties?
Are you finding the reality of parenting different from your expectations?
Other contributing factors can include:
not being able to bond with your baby
attitudes towards fatherhood and masculinity – thinking you can’t talk about how you’re feeling or ask for support, or a fear that you’ll be seen as a ‘failure’ if you’re not coping
changes in your relationship with your partner, which can lead to feelings of resentment and exclusion
worries about extra responsibilities, financial burdens and managing the stress at work.
Is your baby premature or unwell?
If your baby is premature or has health complications, they may need to spend time in the hospital. This can be an extremely distressing situation for any new parent and can increase your risk of developing postpartum mental health disorders. It’s important to look after your mental health. Make sure you take advantage of any support that’s offered and ask what else is available to help you.
The more you answered ‘yes’ to these questions and recognize these scenarios, the greater your risk of developing PPD/PPA.
This doesn’t mean you’ll automatically experience a mental health condition, but it’s important to keep an eye on your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. If you notice changes in yourself, or you’re experiencing some of the symptoms listed below, it’s time to seek support.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
The signs and symptoms of perinatal mood disorders in new dads are broadly the same as those experienced at any other point in our lives. But because becoming a father represents such a big life change, there are also some feelings and responses that are unique to the new fathers’ situation.
Everyone’s experience is different, but if you’ve noticed more than a couple of these signs and symptoms in yourself or a new father close to you, it’s important to seek support.
PPD/PPA can sometimes be hard to spot in new fathers because of the overlap between symptoms and the general stress and exhaustion that comes with caring for a baby. It can be hard to know if what you’re feeling is ‘normal’ when your sense of normal has been completely blown apart.
That’s when it can be helpful to take a close look at how you’re feeling – about yourself, your partner, and your baby. If your thoughts and feelings are predominantly negative, this can be a sign that you’re experiencing PPD/PPA.
Did you know that depression affects 1 in 10 fathers/partners between the first trimester and the year after the baby’s birth, and anxiety conditions affect 1 in 6 fathers/partners during the pregnancy, and 1 in 5 in the postpartum period?
Looking after yourself
Many new fathers/partners feel they need to be their family’s ‘rock’. This can often mean shouldering the pressure that comes with being a father on their own, without any support from those around them.
You might think your partner has enough to deal with, and be reluctant to share your pain and stress with them. Or you might fear being seen as weak or that you’re somehow ‘failing’ in your new role as a father.
It’s not selfish to look after yourself. In fact, it’s one of the best things you can do for your family. A happy, healthy fathers help your baby grow and your partner feels more supported.
Tips that could help
Remember the basics. Diet, exercise, and sleep are the building blocks of how you feel and are often overlooked when your life gets turned upside down by a baby. It’s hard to feel like you’re on top of life when these three things aren’t going right.
Get creative about how you find the time. Can you catch up on sleep while a friend or grandparent takes the baby out? Can you exercise during lunch at work? Can you prepare your weekly meals on the weekend so you’re planning to eat well?
Stay involved. It’s tempting to withdraw when stress is building up at home, but try and stay involved. Supporting your partner and staying hands-on with your baby can make you feel good about yourself, and starts a cycle of positive interactions that build your confidence and appreciation amongst your family.
Don’t forget you’re still a couple. How are you nurturing your relationship with your partner? Spend quality time together (at least a couple of hours once a week) and debrief every night about how you’ve each found the day (even if it’s only 10 minutes).
Check your mindset. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed as a new parent but you're not expected to know everything. Cut yourself some slack and give yourself permission to learn as you go. This helps put any mistakes in perspective, and it’s also a great way to start teaching your child about the right mindset to adopt when tackling problems.
Connect with other fathers. Talking with other fathers who ‘get it’ and are, or have been, going through the same struggles can make you feel less alone. This could be as simple as talking to another father/partner at work, or there are groups just for men to help with adjusting to fatherhood.
Listen to your self-talk. What you say to yourself in your head plays a big part in how you feel about yourself and your life. Pay attention when you start thinking in black and white ways – “I’m not a good dad”, “I never do anything right” for example. Notice what you’re saying to yourself and thinking each day, decide whether this is a helpful or unhelpful way for you to think, and focus on steering your self-talk in a more positive direction.
Focus on your strengths. When you’re in a negative spiral, it can help to identify and write down 3-5 things you did well each day – no matter how small they might seem.
Watch your drinking. Coping with stress by drinking more works at the moment, but blotting things out with alcohol often just compounds the issues you’re avoiding overtime. Plus, trying to care for a baby with a thumping hangover really is the worst.
If you’re really struggling…
Just like your physical health, sometimes your mental health needs a bit of extra care and attention.
Tune in to how you’re feeling and how this is impacting on your life. Find someone you can talk to honestly about how your new role is affecting you – this may be your partner, friend, family member, or a counselor.
It’s OK to ask for support – you don’t have to deal with everything on your own. And if a belief that you should be able to handle things by yourself is stopping you from reaching out, it’s time to ask yourself – honestly – if this approach is working for you, or whether you need to share the load a bit.
This might mean getting more practical help from the extended family, contacting a professional for advice on a sleeping or feeding issue, or talking with your employer about work demands.