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Postnatal depression in dads: the science underlining this overlooked condition

Postnatal depression in dads: the science underlining this overlooked condition
Written by Publishing Team

For both women and men, becoming a parent is naturally considered one of life’s most joyful experiences. Yet this widespread expectation leads to some cultural pressure, especially for parents struggling with issues such as anxiety and low moods before or after the birth of their children.

Indeed, a significant minority of mothers – about 20% – suffer from depression in the months before and after the birth of their child (called perinatal depression, unlike postnatal depression which occurs exclusively after birth).

Fortunately, awareness of these maternal mental health issues has increased in recent years. This is a good thing because if left untreated, a mother’s mental health issues are not only detrimental to her, but also to her baby.

However, what is less known and recognized is that fathers too are at increased risk of depression and anxiety around the time of the birth of their children, which can also have adverse consequences for their children and their partners. .

Previous research had suggested that about 10% of fathers suffered from perinatal depression. However, a Canadian study of nearly 2,500 fathers gives an even more precise idea of ​​the extent of the problem, by estimating for the first time the proportion of fathers who suffer from both depression and anxiety at the time of the birth of their children.

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Having both conditions at the same time, which is called comorbidity, is a more serious and complex clinical situation, both more difficult to treat and more likely to have harmful consequences for children and partners.

The team led by Cindy-Lee Dennis at the University of Toronto found that nearly one in four fathers suffered from both anxiety and depression at some point during their child’s first year, falling to one in eight beyond the first year. The researchers said these high rates “demonstrate the importance of screening and early intervention for depression and anxiety in men during the postpartum period.”

These numbers might surprise some, especially since postnatal depression in women is often attributed in part to issues that aren’t usually thought to directly affect fathers, such as a difficult pregnancy or hormonal changes.

However, there is emerging evidence that becoming a father is also associated with significant biological effects, studies have found reductions in testosterone and even changes in the brains of new fathers. Additionally, many of the risk factors for male perinatal and postnatal depression and anxiety are social and psychological in nature.

The Canadian study looked at these questions and found that significant risk factors for fathers in their research included a history of mental illness, lack of social support, poorer health, problems establishing attachment health with their children and relationship difficulties with their children. mother.

In short, despite the potential for untold joy and love, becoming a father is also a time of intense change and challenge. As the researchers put it, “the transition after the birth of a child for fathers can be marked by discord between who they were and who they are becoming.”

For dads who feel lonely, have pre-existing psychological vulnerabilities, and/or have issues in their relationship with mom, it’s no wonder depression and anxiety can flare up.

For many fathers, the problem is compounded by broader cultural expectations that pregnancy, childbirth and aftermath are primarily a challenge for women, and that men should be strong, quiet and supportive (men are particularly guilty of having this attitude towards other men).

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Along the same lines, many existing support services for future parents tend to favor mothers. Consider a British study from a few years ago that involved in-depth interviews with 10 first-time fathers – they spoke of the feelings of separation and helplessness triggered by prenatal classes that were almost exclusively focused on mothers and the mothering.

Professor Viren Swami is a psychologist who has written about his own postnatal depression. One of his suggestions for what would be helpful is that support services facilitate more dialogue between fathers, especially between first-time fathers and fathers of toddlers and older children.

Other proposals include broader societal changes that recognize parenthood as a time of intense change for both fathers and mothers, for example through work practices that provide more generous or flexible paternal leave.

Of course, raising awareness of fathers’ mental health issues should not come at the expense of supporting mothers. In fact, all parents would benefit from advice on how to support each other and how to “co-parent,” which involves parenting collaboratively, making decisions together, and dividing tasks fairly.

Thanks to campaign groups such as Fathers Reaching Out, awareness of mental health issues facing fathers appears to be increasing. In the UK, the National ChildCare Trust, which offers many educational courses for expectant and new parents, now has a webpage dedicated to postnatal depression in fathers, including advice on where to go for help. ugly.

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