Postpartum depression is a debilitating condition that affects one in five new moms. But now, new evidence reveals that dads can suffer from the “baby blues,” as well. Left untreated, this kind of depression can negatively impact a dad’s job, home life and children.
Gus Shaffer remembers how his wife, Crissy, struggled with postpartum depression after the birth of their first child.
“She stopped sleeping,” recalls Shaffer. “She didn't sleep for a week.”
What Shaffer didn't realize was that he, too, was slipping into depression.
“There's a lot of stuff going on that I felt helpless about, and I didn't like, and by trying to ignore it, I was withdrawing from reality,” says Shaffer.
Sam Stevens is a licensed marriage and family therapist who works with new dads.
“I just wasn't myself,” remembers Stevens, who suffered from postpartum depression after the birth of his daughter. He says that there's science to back up the diagnosis.
It’s well known that hormones change in women after birth. But in just the last two years, researchers have discovered changes in men. Men's testosterone levels drop, making new dads less aggressive. At the same time, oxytocin - the hormone that facilitates bonding - goes up, making dads more nurturing.
“Anytime you deal with hormone changes, (it) can be stressful,” says Stevens. “That's really the difference between just being difficult and postpartum depression. ..."
About 15 to 20 percent of new moms suffer from postpartum depression, peaking at three months. In dads, it's about 11 percent, peaking at six to nine months.
The best predictor of postpartum depression in men is their partners' mental health. If a mom suffers from postpartum depression, the dad has a 50 percent chance of suffering, too.
So what does postpartum depression look like in dads? Symptoms include:
- Personality shift
- Spending more time at work to avoid family or because of overwhelming financial concerns
“I definitely felt like there wasn't an outlet,” remembers Shaffer. “I had no idea who I would talk to about this.”
Typically, dads do get better with time, but about a third are still struggling five years out. They’re less engaged, spank more and raise kids with more behavioral problems.
Fortunately, Shaffer did get help through therapy and today enjoys a very connected relationship with his wife and children.
“Don't ever be ashamed to have self-care,” advises Shaffer. “It's really essential, because if you can't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anybody else.”
There’s help for moms and dads who suffer from postpartum depression:
- Mom and dad support groups
- Phone help line through Baby Blue Connection, a local group
- Family counseling
Click here for a printable list of resources, plus a recommended reading list.
There’s also advice for expecting dads:
- Be proactive. Connect with a dads' group before your baby arrives.
- Take at least 2 weeks off after the birth of your child. When you go back, return half time for a few weeks.