With Father’s day coming up, I want to point out to the subject of fathers and postnatal depression as I feel it is despite its significance often overlooked or even ignored.
Postpartum depression has typically been perceived as a problem limited to women with newborn babies and has not included men.
However, we cannot forget that fathers also experience significant changes with the arrival of their child. Fathers also have to adjust to an array of new and demanding roles and tasks during the early stages of parenthood.
That being said, I have an apt example of how postpartum period can affect different people in different ways regardless of their sex and role.
When our boys were about two months old, my sister and her husband – my brother in law – stayed with us for a couple of weeks.
They came almost right after my mum had left as I was desperate for help while Yaw was at work, and straight away we involved them in our daily tasks as well as night feeds.
At first, it was great and despite the constant overwhelming work our boys gave us, we managed to have some fun as well.
However, after a few days, I noticed that this new ‘lifestyle’ really started to get to my brother in law, Marek.
“I know I was not a parent and was only helping to look after the boys for a limited time. However, it really got to me,” he says. “For a little while, I got to experience what it takes to be a new parent. The first days were ok, but after a while, your brain gets burnt out and you completely lose track of time. All the more, if you are not used to this new routine of a new parent and especially at nights – getting up, change the baby, put them back… and all this over and over again. And even if you get out for a while, you can easily feel anxious or even depressed.”
Marek works as an interior designer and whenever he happened to be in London, has always been excited about visiting London galleries and his excitement was in truth contagious.
A few days into their stay, Marek took a “day off” and went to a museum which he was especially looking forward to seeing.
When he got back looking shattered, I knew something was not right. Frankly, I had never seen him in such a poor state as he was that day.
“When I got to the gallery, I was overwhelmed by a sudden wave of anxiety. I sat down in the coffee shop and mentally wasn’t able to sense anything, let alone any art. I remember I wasn’t able to think clearly, not sense things around me like I normally would. It was extremely tiring. However, not physically, but mentally,” Marek says.
“Up until then I only heard stories from others or other fathers joking on staying late at work to avoid the madness at home etc. But after those two weeks, I got to understand these things on a deeper level. It was only a short time for me and I don’t understand how parents can cope with this on a daily basis. I totally understand where postnatal depression comes from and it is totally understandable if a mother or father suffers from it. It is a lot to take in at once.”
Especially if all these changes happen from one day to another, that is.
“I didn’t understand how Ivanka as a mother, Yaw as a father can do this, and how my wife could deal with it so well. Basically, everyone was managing, but me,” he smiles.
Marek’s experience is a great example of how looking after a baby can really affect anyone and in different ways.
As he says, Marek was not even a father of the babies at the time he experienced this overwhelming anxiety, and still, looking after them had a great negative impact on him.
This raises a question, how it can then affect parents who have no break and look after their babies non-stop?
Remember – postnatal depression is not limited to mothers. It can affect fathers just like mothers.
That is why you should never neglect and always try to understand the feelings of your partner as well.
Signs to look out for in your partner
Each dad will experience postnatal depression differently but the symptoms can be similar to those found amongst new mums and can include:
- Feeling very low, or despondent.
- Feeling tired and very lethargic.
- Not wanting to do anything or take an interest in the outside world.
- A sense of inadequacy or unable to cope.
- Feeling guilty about not coping, or about not loving their baby enough.
- Being unusually irritable.
- Wanting to cry/crying a lot or even constantly.
- Having obsessive and irrational thoughts which can be very scary.
If your partner shows any of these symptoms, you should take this very seriously.
Talking with your partner often and asking how he’s feeling will help you both be aware of any changes.
If the emotional changes in your partner go on for longer than two weeks and get in the way of daily life, you need to help your partner get professional advice.
What support is there?
Although there are fewer services that support partners, and you cannot get a specific perinatal diagnosis, there are still ways you can get support:
Speak to your doctor about your mental health
Your doctor can refer you to local support services, talking treatments and prescribe you medication if required.
Contact a specialist organisation
most diagnosis-specific charities can offer support to new parents. See our pages on specific diagnoses for more information.
Look after yourself
See some self-care ideas on how to look after your mental health when becoming a parent in my post What is Postnatal Depression? Symptoms, causes, and treatment options.