Postnatal Depression in Men, Prevention or Cure?

Postnatal depression in men is a subject close to my heart. From working with expectant fathers and talking to new dads (especially first time dads) I’m aware that this is a real issue.

The medical profession now accepts that postnatal depression in men exists. Really? Tell us something that those of us who work with dads didn’t know! A recent survey by the Medical Research Council of 86,957 families found that 3% of men will suffer postnatal depression in the first year of their baby’s life rising to over 10% by the time baby is 4. This percentage is believed by many to be on the low side, as many men don’t seek help with depression and therefore numbers affected can’t be accurately recorded.

So why is postnatal depression in men on the increase and what causes it?

Is it coincidence that the increase in postnatal depression in men has coincided with the change in the man’s role surrounding pregnancy, birth and fatherhood?

Society has moved towards men being more involved, and taking a fair share of the parenting role, but what we haven’t done is change anything about how we prepare men for this new role! In any other walk of life would we put somebody into a role where they can potentially hurt themselves or others without the correct training? Of course not, but we are perfectly happy to say to a man ‘here you go, you’re going to be a dad, now get on with it!’

Research has shown that one of the most common reasons a man suffers postnatal depression is because his partner is also suffering from it. Women tend to mask their depression very well, and their partner doesn’t recognise it or has no idea what symptoms to even look for. Recent research from the Medical Council suggests that 13% of women are likely to suffer depression in the first year of their baby’s life. Men don’t understand what their partner is going through, which can then be misinterpreted as a lack of care, and we end up in a vicious cycle.

Other reasons for postnatal depression can be guilt, guilt about the birth, trauma from the birth, guilt about not feeling bonded or love for their newborn child, lack of communication between mum and dad, guilt when dad has feelings of resentment for his baby. It can also be from suddenly feeling like an outsider or excluded from his own family, as mum puts baby’s needs first, or simply from the pure tiredness and stress of being a new father, & juggling work and family.

Prevention rather than cure

Prevention has got be better than cure, as this problem will remain hidden in the majority of cases and only come to light in extreme circumstances. So how do we become pro-active in preventing it develop? ‘New Men’ are here to stay so we owe it to them to support them in their new role!

The answer is actually quite simple.

Let’s prepare men for becoming a father, let’s train them on becoming a dad. Once baby is here, let’s support them by providing dads groups at times that are accessible for them. There are some, but we need more, and ideally run by men to allow that open male bonding and support that can occur in a male only environment. Ask a new mum and many will tell you her support network is not her family but a group of new mums she has met through various baby classes. This support is invaluable to mums.

Let’s educate men about symptoms and causes of postnatal depression in their partners. This will help their partner get the help they need quickly, and prevent the transference to them. Men will understand why the mood swings etc are occurring in their partner and not take it personally.

Let’s support men to bond antenatally with their baby, therefore helping to prevent dad’s feelings of guilt about not feeling love for his child when they are born.

Let’s help men to understand and learn practical skills for their role as a birth partner, let them & their partner decide how involved in the birth dad wants to be, and whether they wish for additional support.

Let’s explain to men the changes their partner’s are going through, & how the possible changes will affect them as a family.

Let’s get men to fully appreciate what becoming a dad is all about and prepare for the changes that are going to happen.

Let’s reassure men that a lot of what they will feel and go through is perfectly normal, & it’s ok to talk about their feelings and experiences.  Let’s help them to release their fears and stop them manifesting.

So… Prevention or Cure?

The answer therefore is clear. Yes, postnatal depression in men is very real, but through correct education and support can be and should be, prevented. The benefits for society and the family are huge. These are all things I care deeply about and are intrinsic as to why DaddyNatal came to be. We need traditional antenatal education to change and reflect the way society has changed. Dads need specifically tailored help and support, & if we empower them, they in turn will be better able to support their families.

Just think for a minute about how tackling this could have an absolutely massive effect:

Reduced family break up.

Closer families.

Mentally healthier parents = mentally healthier children

Cost savings for our health service.

The list goes on…………..