Sad Dads: How to Make Sense of Postpartum Depression for Men
Updated: Sep 12
Men have been greatly overlooked when it comes to postpartum depression. Of course, it’s easy to see why.
A mother’s postpartum depression comes from a variety of interacting factors, not the least of which is the intense hormonal and biochemical change that her body is going through.
Dad, of course, doesn’t have quite the same experience of pregnancy and birth. Therefore, we as a society haven’t quite recognized how impactful, and incredibly stressful, this time can be for new fathers.
However, society and the medical world are beginning to catch up. Now we know that dads, too, can experience postpartum depression.
What Is Paternal Postpartum Depression?
Paternal Postpartum Depression (PPD) is the official name for fathers who experience depression after their child’s birth. Approximately 10% – 25% of new fathers develop PPD.
PPD has some of the usual symptoms of regular major depression. New dads who develop PPD experience unexplained, persistent sadness, high levels of stress, feelings of worthlessness, and loss of interest in things that they previously enjoyed. They may also experience weight change, fatigue, and thoughts of death or suicide.
Other Symptoms of Postpartum Depression in Men
Although PPD is similar to major depression in some ways, there are also some differences. Some of the most common PPD symptoms include:
Anger, frustration, irritability, and even violence
Mixed feelings or confusion about manhood, fatherhood, and being a spouse/partner
Physical ailments including headaches, digestion issues, and muscle pain
Reckless or risky behavior such as gambling or having an affair
Workaholic behavior combined with a loss of interest in work and worries about being unproductive
Postpartum Depression in Dads vs. Moms
There are many similarities between postpartum depression in moms and dads. In fact, a large percentage of the symptoms are the same for either parent.
One of the most surprising similarities is that there is a hormonal component to male postpartum depression.
Research indicates that some men experience a decrease in testosterone after the baby’s birth. There seems to be a correlation between dads with lower testosterone and dads who experience postpartum depression.
Of course, there are also important differences between mom and dad when it comes to postpartum depression. One primary difference is that it shows up later in dads than in moms.
Many women develop signs of postpartum depression within the first few weeks or months of the baby’s birth. In contrast, dads often develop it when the baby is 3-6 months old.
Furthermore, women tend to internalize depression, whereas men often act it out. That’s why men are more likely to become impulsive, reckless, and angry during this time.
Furthermore, while some women certainly return to work shortly after the baby’s birth and therefore experience work stressors in relation to depression, this situation is more common among men.
What Causes Postpartum Depression in Dads?
As mentioned, hormones play a role in a new dad’s depression. However, there are many other causes.
Despite changes in gender roles over the years, dads still tend to play a different role than moms in those first months of a baby’s life.
Dads may feel disconnected from the baby, unsure of how to play this new role in life. Furthermore, as mom turns all of her energy to the baby, dad might feel left out, displaced, and lonely.
Of course, this sense of distance increases if mom also has postpartum depression. In fact, a spouse with postpartum is a risk factor for dad to develop depression.
Dad can feel a lot of pressure to support this new family. However, with baby keeping him up at night, he doesn’t feel like he can do his best at work. Therefore, he feels like he’s not succeeding in any area of his life. As a result, it’s common to develop feelings of insecurity and worthlessness.
Dads with postpartum depression benefit greatly from counseling. I offer a complimentary phone consultation to all potential clients. To schedule yours in a matter of seconds, please check here.
To learn more about how counseling can help treat paternal postpartum depression, please click here.
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Jennifer Perera is a mom, spouse and Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has over a decade’s worth of experience in mental health. She has a private practice in New Jersey, with locations in Cranford and Princeton. Her passion is helping new moms and dads find their joy again in parenthood through individual, group and couples counseling. Jennifer specializes in working with parents during the prenatal and postpartum periods and those coping with a pregnancy loss or infertility. Her other passion is travelling to different parts of the world and her goal is to vacation in a different locale every time. She also has a great fondness for cats!