Being a new parent can feel like a roller-coaster ride for both men and women, but some parents experience the additional challenges of postnatal depression.
Both mums and dads need support
There is a common belief that antenatal and postnatal depression are only experienced by women. However, research shows that one in 20 fathers are now diagnosed with depression during the antenatal or postnatal period each year, and experts suggest that the number could be higher, meaning some parents are struggling without diagnosis or support.
Postnatal depression (PND) affects some parents in the days, weeks or months after birth. Symptoms can include negative thoughts, lack of confidence, feelings of being unable to cope or that life is meaningless, anxiety, difficulty sleeping and loss of appetite. Depression during pregnancy is called antenatal depression. Treatment for both antenatal and postnatal depression may include support, therapy and medication.
New fathers are far less likely to access the same support services that new mothers do, such as their maternal and child health nurse or midwives, or more frequent visits to their GP. This is where symptoms for new mothers are often picked up. So it is important that new fathers and their partners recognise the signs of postnatal depression so that they can seek help as early as possible.
Men’s friends can also play an important role in picking up on the warning signs. Early support helps to avoid longer-term effects on men’s mental health and relationships with family and friends.
What new dads need to watch out for
While paternal postnatal depression is still unrecognised in psychiatric diagnostic literature, symptoms that can point to depression during this time include:
- Tiredness and headaches
- Irritability, anxiety and anger
- Loss of libido
- Changes in appetite
- Feelings of being overwhelmed, out of control and unable to cope
- Engaging in risk-taking behaviour
- Feelings of isolation and disconnection from partner, friends or family
- Withdrawal from intimate relationships and from family, friends and community life
- Increased hours of work as a part of the withdrawal from family
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol instead of seeking treatment for depression.
Where to get help
If you are concerned, remember that you are not alone and that help is available:
- Visit your doctor for a full medical and mental health assessment, to clearly establish what is going on. You may discuss the option of a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist.
- Seek extra support. Go along to your baby’s next maternal and child health nurse appointment and discuss your situation with the nurse. Ask if there are additional support services or a support group for men in your local area.
- Get more information. Contact Post and Antenatal Depression Association (PANDA).
- Seek emotional and practical support from your partner, your family and friends, or your work colleagues. The nature of depression may mean you feel isolated and alone.
It’s not easy, but new dads need to look after themselves
The added responsibilities of a baby in the house can mean fathers are under extra pressure, with less time to do the things for themselves that will help them cope. But it is important that dads try to look after their physical and emotional wellbeing:
- Make sure you have some time to yourself, apart from work and family
- Try to maintain hobbies and interests as much as possible.
- Talk to close friends about what you are experiencing.
Access to specialists
Accessing specialists, including psychiatrists, can be difficult for some families living in remote or rural parts of Australia. For families who face this situation, a video consultation with a specialist conducted online (from a local doctor’s clinic), could be an option to consider. If you live in a regional or rural area and would like to find out more, visit Anywhere Healthcare or ask your GP whether a referral to an Anywhere Healthcare psychiatrist is appropriate for you.
This article first appeared on Health Matters on 20 November, 2013.