Postpartum Depression? It’s Not Just for Mothers

By now we’re all used to postpartum depression in women – we’ve had years of work to remove the stigma on the disease and make sure that mothers don’t feel any guilt about suffering from it. Once it might have been seen as being a “bad mother” to be a sufferer of postpartum depression, as though they didn’t love or care for their children as much as healthy mothers. Now, though, concerted efforts mean that there’s much more awareness and understanding about the disease, and mothers suffering from it are offered the help that they need.

This is certainly a success story for tackling postpartum depression. But it’s left one thing out: the fathers. In all the admittedly worthy action taken on behalf of mothers, the fact that fathers, too, can suffer from postpartum depression has been side-lined far too often. Paternal postpartum depression is rarely discussed, but research has shown that it may be a genuine mental health issue – just as the more widley-known maternal equivalent is.

What is Paternal Postpartum Depression?

The definition of maternal postpartum depression is ‘a major depressive episode with onset occurring within four weeks of delivery’, where a depressive episode involves ‘depressed or sad mood, marked loss of interest in virtually all activities, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia or hypersomnia, psychomotor agitation or retardation, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, diminished ability to think or concentrate, and recurrent thoughts of death’ [1].

Because of the paucity of research into paternal postpartum depression, there is no single agreed definition of the disease, according to the paper cited above. In practice the maternal definition is used to some extent when considering fathers, while still moderated by the known differences between maternal and paternal postpartum depression. As there is no agreement yet and more research still needs to be done, there are no certainties about the definition of paternal postpartum depression.

However, fathers should not assume that the maternal definition can be straightforwardly applied to their own situation. According to an article published in the Archives of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, “men can display different depressive symptoms from women” [2] and so the maternal definition may be inadequate for fathers. For example, men may feel more fear or anger than sadness, compared to women. But we should wait for more, much-needed research to be done before being too confident about any definitions.

Some might scoff at the idea of paternal postpartum depression. But of course it’s just that reaction that leads fathers to keep silent if they’re suffering, making it even harder to raise awareness about the disease. It’s important for men to be able to talk about any mental health worries they might have – it helps no one to keep feelings bottled up inside. If we are to start talking about the male mental health crisis, we will have to start accepting that even in areas we think of as exclusively female, like postpartum depression, it is not uncommon for men to suffer as well.

Low levels of testosterone have been linked to depression [3] – men should be able to come forward about their mental health issues so they can get the treatment they need, whether that’s testosterone replacement therapy or any other treatment where necessary. Let’s not leave men out of the mental health conversation – and if you do have any concerns, make sure you speak to your GP or doctor.

References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2922346/

[2] http://www.archivespp.pl/uploads/images/2014_16_2/61TuszynskaBogucka_ArchivesPP2_2014.pdf

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15084139

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