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Postpartum Depression in Dads Is Almost as Common as It Is in Moms, Report Finds

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

Since I first became a mom almost a decade ago, the conversation about postpartum depression has opened up a whole lot more. Women are bravely telling their stories, the media is finally reporting on it, and more and more doctors are screening for it. I can’t stress enough how important this is — after all, breaking the stigma, and telling moms that they are not alone is one of the first steps in making sure they seek the help they need.

But what you don’t hear much about when it comes to those emotion-filled and often stressful months postpartum, is just how dads are coping with it all – and that they too can experience bouts of depression and anxiety, just like mom. A new groundbreaking report from the University of Massachusetts’ Journal of Parent and Family Mental Health rounded up the latest research on paternal postpartum depression, and what they found might surprise you.

It turns out, postpartum depression is almost as common in dads as it is in moms. (Just let that sink in for a minute.)

According to researchers, studies have found that anywhere from 4-25% of new dads experience postpartum depression at some point in the first three to six months after the birth of their babies. And symptoms of postpartum depression in dads are similar to the ones you typically see in moms: They include feelings of hopelessness, guilt, insomnia, lack of interest in normal activities, and suicidal thoughts, to name a few.

But there are also some symptoms that are specific to dads, the researchers found: Namely, irritability, impulsiveness, avoidance behavior, and violent behavior.

Crystal Clancy, a licensed therapist and co-founder of Pregnancy and Postpartum Support Minnesota, recently spoke to Fox9 News about these new study findings, and described in more detail just how different postpartum depression looks in dads versus moms:

“It looks different than in women and that’s why it gets missed a lot,” Clancy explained. “In men, they do not walk around sad and crying. They’re typically more angry, more internal, more withdrawn from their partner, from the family.”

Personally, I found this all pretty eye-opening. As a lactation consultant, I’ve worked with hundreds of families in the postpartum period. And while it’s not my job to diagnose or treat postpartum depression, if I see symptoms in a mom I’m working with, I will advise her to seek help. But I’ve also seen many husbands exhibit some of the signs of paternal postpartum depression, too — and have witnessed firsthand just how much it can affect the whole family unit.

When my second child was born, my own husband sunk into a brief depression. Our two sons are five years apart, so we were really used to giving all our attention to our first child. It was a bit of a shock to my husband when our second son came along. He didn’t bond with our baby immediately, and felt distanced from him (and me) as a result. Needless to say, it was a difficult time in our family; but thankfully, just talking about his feelings helped a ton. As time passed, he was able to fall in love with our second son, and I’m happy to say now that they’ve been joined at the hip ever since.

I think the most powerful and important aspect of a study like this is one is that it will get us all talking about paternal postpartum depression — and hopefully, it will urge dads who are experiencing symptoms to get the help they need before anything escalates.

I bet we all have stories of men in our lives who have exhibited symptoms of postpartum depression, but we didn’t even realize it was a thing, that it was common, and that it should be taken seriously.

And yes, we absolutely should take it seriously, because left untreated, paternal postpartum depression can sometimes lead to some pretty unfortunate outcomes. One study cited in the report claims that children of fathers who had postpartum depression are more likely to have emotional and behavior issues later on.

Crystal Clancy gives an even more dire warning. She says that certain fathers battling PPD are “more likely to be violent and engage in abusive behaviors towards mom, towards baby, other children in the home.”

The good news is the there is treatment out there, and hopefully spreading awareness about it will increase the likelihood that men will seek treatment rather than keeping their feelings hidden or acting out in harmful ways.

The research authors do note that this is a brand new area of research, and that much more research still needs to be done on the topic. Either way, they hope that putting out this information will create a new level of awareness for families and their healthcare providers.

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