An Australian study, published in the journal of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, found that fathers of a newborn were just as likely to get the baby blues as mothers. If the father was under 30, he was 40 per cent more likely to develop postnatal depression than if he was over 30.
According to the Post and Antenatal Depression Association (PANDA), about one in 20 men will be diagnosed with postnatal depression annually. While there has been a tremendous amount of work done to help treat and prevent mothers with the condition, many dads go undiagnosed and untreated.
Lisa Knott, PANDA’s communication manager, says the number of men who are actually suffering from the condition may be significantly higher. She says there may be a couple of reasons why this is the case, explaining, “There is a lot of shame and secrecy around postnatal depression still, particularly in men, and also because a lot of men don’t realise that what they’re experiencing is postnatal depression.”
The multitude of indicators is another inhibitor in men recognising that they are affected by it, says Knott. The warning signs can vary from man to man, but in general, tiredness, anxiety, anger, risky behaviour and feelings of isolation from the family could all be important pointers that there is a problem.
Unlike mums, who usually take some time off work after the birth of the baby, fathers may return to work sooner rather than later. The stresses of being the financial provider, work issues, and meeting the demands of the new family may be contributors in men feeling overwhelmed and as if they can’t cope.
Research suggests that children display problems around the age of three if their father suffered from postnatal depression
Maternal and child health services currently offer no screening services for postnatal depression for fathers, but the authors of the Australian study highlighted the need for such services in their paper.
“This is an important step toward supporting and promoting the wellbeing of the whole family during the early childhood period,” they wrote.
Having supportive family and friends close by is crucial in helping any family in which there may be a member suffering from depression. But in a family where the mother has already been diagnosed with PND, it's even more important to provide assistance and support for the father, as research has shown there's a strong correlation between maternal and paternal depression.
Stigma surrounding men’s emotions, including assumptions that 'grown men don’t cry', and societal attitudes that men are stronger and shouldn’t be seen as breaking down, further exacerbate the problem.
The effect of a father suffering from postnatal depression can be long lasting in his children, especially if no treatment is sought for the symptoms over a long period of time. Research suggests that children, especially boys, display behavioural and emotional problems around the age of three if their father was suffering from depression in the postnatal period.
There are plenty of ways in which fathers can reach out for help. Some avenues through which men can reach out for help include:
- PANDA’s helpline on 1300 726 306, and their website for other support options
- Your GP
- Mensline’s telephone support on 1300 78 99 78 and online support
- Postnatal depression support groups in each state
- Their partner
- Family and friends
The aim of Postnatal and Antenatal Depression Awareness Week (November 18-24) is to provide information about the condition and encourage parents to seek support. This year, PANDA’s awareness campaign intends to point out that the signs and symptoms of the condition may not be all black or white.