Postpartum depression (PPD) is commonly associated with new mothers, and support for women with PPD is readily available. However, emerging evidence suggests that 10 percent of new fathers also experience the “baby blues.” Postpartum depression in dads is more likely to occur if the dad has a history of depression or if he is feeling stressed in his marriage or about becoming a father. When a father has PPD, the whole family suffers.
Why does PPD in dads go unrecognized so often? After the birth of a new child, mothers typically meet regularly with their OB-GYN and the child’s pediatrician. These opportunities allow mothers to talk about how they are feeling. However, fathers often return to work immediately or soon after a baby is born and do not have the opportunity to speak with medical professionals.
Fathers also might not recognize that what they’re feeling is actually depression that would benefit from treatment. Media stories about PPD in fathers are rare, so many dads might not even be aware such a condition exists. Typical depressive symptoms are: depressed mood most of the day, decreased interest in activities including sex, changes in weight (gain or loss), changes in sleep (waking up during the night with difficulty falling back to sleep or sleeping more than usual), agitation, lethargy, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of death. A father need not experience all of these symptoms to be considered depressed.
Just as with moms, dads experiencing PPD need support. Informal support—from friends and family—is important, but if a father is experiencing symptoms of PPD for greater than two weeks, he should seek a doctor specializing in mood disorders, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or mental health counselor, and schedule a check-up with his physician.
Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression. If symptoms and mood do not improve following treatment, a psychologist may advise dad to consult a psychiatrist for a medical consultation. Many patients report that the combination of talk therapy and medications, or “therapy through medication,” is beneficial in helping to improve their mood and return to their normal activities.
Family therapy is another option for treatment of PPD. Family therapists teach couples communication strategies that can benefit the whole family. If you or your partner is experiencing symptoms of PPD, don’t wait to get help. Talk to someone you trust and get the support you deserve. Treatment is strongly recommended before the birth of the baby if there is a history of depression or marital issues or if dad feels stressed about fatherhood. Parents, take care of yourself so you are better able to care for your newborn.
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