“How are you feeling, emotionally? Any long periods of sadness or worry?” In between ultrasounds and heartbeats and blood pressure readings, my obstetrician asks about my mental health during every prenatal visit. She also brings up the possibility of postpartum depression once this kid is born in a few months, reminding me that many women experience it at some level and how important it is to seek help if persistent feelings of anxiety, sadness, or detachment last longer than a couple of weeks.
It’s reassuring to know my doctor is alert to this overwhelming condition that has affected so many of my friends and acquaintances, from milder cases to a severe case of wanting to die and having intrusive thoughts of hurting the baby. Between 9 and 16 percent of new mothers suffer from postpartum depression, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I’m confident that if I experience PPD in any form, I’ll have a sympathetic professional ear and immediate medical treatment available to me as a new mother.
But Radish Magazine points out that postpartum depression in dads (p. 29) is just as common as in moms—and the same culture that has learned to open up about the condition in women isn’t quite as prepared for it in men.
A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association finds that “14 percent of men suffer depression either during their partner’s pregnancy or during the first year after the birth of their child.” Says study author James Paulson:
There is a stigma surrounding depression, especially in men. If you look at the Internet forums where people are talking about this study, you’ll read so many people saying that these guys just have to man up or that the men suffering from this are just sad that they’re no longer the center of attention.
In my circles, we do tend to cluck sympathetically when hearing of a new mom struggling through dark thoughts in the months after her little bambino is born, while simultaneously coming down on a new dad who feels anxious or sad during the same time period. Paulson’s study is a great reminder that the partner is experiencing just as profound of a life change as the mother. It's important for men suffering from depression to overcome the stigma and seek help, just as women are counseled to do. “Having a child changes a person’s life in dramatic way,” writes Radish. “This can be overwhelming to even the most stable of new fathers.”
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Image by marko boni, licensed under Creative Commons.