Jun-17-2010

Postpartum Depression Can Hit New Dads Too

Guest blog post from Dr. Rosalind Dorlen, a clinical psychologist in New Jersey

I have treated many women over the years for postpartum depression. You may have heard the research that says fluctuating hormones in new mothers can make them susceptible to postpartum depression or the more benign form of “baby blues.”  In fact, the data says about one-out-of eight women experience full-blown postpartum depression.

But it’s not just women who feel sadness or depression after becoming a new parent. A new study states that about 10 percent of new fathers experience postpartum depression too. While this study is making the rounds of news headlines, it’s not all news to me.

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In the past few years, I’ve worked with many men who contacted me after they became fathers. That doesn’t include the several other men who were my patients before their wives delivered and became noticeably more depressed after their baby’s birth.

The same hormonal factors that affect women do not apply to men, whose depression occurred either during their wife’s pregnancy or shortly after the birth of their child. In the men I have treated, the factors related more to the effects of sleep deprivation combined with a number of psychological and relationship factors.  

For example, several men were having difficulties because they felt ignored by their significant other and upstaged by all the attention their babies were getting. They appeared to feel jealous and envious of their newborn, which made them feel angry and guilty for wishing their child had not been born. These feelings triggered off cascading emotions of anger toward themselves for having such frightening thoughts toward their spouse or significant other, just at the same time they were expected to be more sensitive and responsive to their families.

Employment challenges, sleep deprivation and financial stress added to their difficulties. Clearly, they were feeling depressed, sad, anxious and angry. Cognitive psychotherapy was very helpful for them as they began to understand and creatively develop strategies to deal with their emotions and strong reactions to the changes that had occurred in their lives.

While the percentage of men suffering from postpartum depression is lower than the percentage of women, it is more than twice the rate of depression in the general population of men. This may have adverse effects on the men, his children and partners, as well as other children in the family.

So what is there to do if you are a new dad or man who feels depressed? Or perhaps you know a father or man who is depressed? Most important, know that he’s not the only one feeling this way. Talk to trusted friends, family members or other fathers. If the sadness doesn’t seem to go away after a few weeks, consider consulting with a psychologist. It may seem embarrassing or humiliating to get help. But psychologists are trained to help people cope with life problems, such as resentment or sadness about a new baby.  

Remember that depression in both men and women is a treatable mental health condition that responds well to a combination of cognitive, dynamic and behavioral psychotherapy, relaxation techniques and exercise, and in some cases medication.

Dr. Rosalind Dorlen is a clinical psychologist in Summit, N.J. Among her many interests is postpartum mood disorders. Dr. Dorlen served as a member of the Governor of New Jersey’s Task Force on Postpartum Depression, which led to the law requiring doctors to screen all new mothers for postpartum depression in New Jersey and is a model for national legislation.

Photo by fikirbaz via (flickr)

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