You’ve heard plenty of stories (among friends, on social media, or maybe even in celebrity tell-all books) of women experiencing postpartum depression. The postnatal depression you might not have heard about is PPND (paternal postnatal depression)—the one your partner may suffer from after your little bundle of joy arrives.
But PPND is very, very real: A recent study published in Pediatrics found that depression scores among new fathers increased by 68 percent during the first five years of their children's lives, a crucial time when it comes to bonding with Baby.
To help you (and your partner) learn more about this disorder, we talked to top experts in the field to find out why it happens and how to get help.
“Depression among new dads is not uncommon, and they’re not alone,” says Will Courtenay, PhD, LCSW, also known as “The Men’s Doc,” author of Dying to Be Men (Routledge, 2011), and the founder of the website SadDaddy.com. “The fact is, one in four new dads in the United States become depressed—which amounts to 3,000 dads who become depressed each day. It’s normal for dads to need help as they enter fatherhood.”
“I think the big issue for men is to take the depression seriously and be able to recognize it’s really happening,” says Christina Hibbert, PsyD, an expert on postpartum mental health and founder of the nonprofit organization, the Arizona Postpartum Wellness Coalition. She created a DVD on postpartum couples and said that when she presented it at a 2004 conference, it was the first time she remembers there being a discussion about the father’s postpartum experience. “This isn’t a weakness, you can’t just will it away and try harder and it’s going to be better. It’s a major life change [you’re experiencing].”
Why It Happens
You know that your hormones have been on a roller coaster ride since you got pregnant, and that they continue to change after junior arrives, but did you know that men experience hormone changes as well?
“Men’s hormones change during pregnancy and after their babies are born,” says Dr. Courtenay. “It’s a double-whammy. Not only do our testosterone levels decrease, but our estrogen levels increase.”
Those hormone changes make men biologically predisposed to depression right when the baby comes, says Dr. Hibbert.
Pairing those hormone fluctuations with the neurochemical changes that occur in the brain as a result of sleep deprivation can combine to create the perfect storm [for depression] that we see peak in the 3- to 6-month period, says Dr. Courtenay.