Children are a menace and a joy and life-altering all at once — and consequently cause mental breakdowns in women and men alike. In fact, contrary to general conceptions, paternal postpartum depression (PPPD) is a very real, understudied and underdiagnosed disorder that affects approximately 10% of new fathers around the world.
Postpartum Support International (PSI) stated up to 18% of men who develop PPPD also develop clinically significant anxiety disorders like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or PTSD.
Like postpartum depression in women, PPPD can be triggered by certain environmental factors: marital discord, financial instabilities, maternal PPD and unintended pregnancies can all lead to depression.
The traditional expectations of masculinity and virility can limit a new father’s emotional expression and keep them from seeking help.
Studies have shown differences in how men and women deal with depression. Typically, women internalize their newfound fears and sadness, while men tend to externalize their depression and onset anxieties.
According to PSI, paternal depression can manifest itself through increased anger, irritability, frustration and isolation from family and friends; and loss of interest in intimacy and hobbies. Additionally, men can develop hostile thoughts/behavior toward their partner or children and even experience hormonal changes.
Nick Cramer, husband to Ana Cramer (who was mentioned in Thursday’s article on postpartum depression), provided details about his experiences with postpartum depression.
“My experience with PPD really boils down to trying to be as supportive as I possibly could, but feeling like I was failing repeatedly,” Nick said.
He would do house chores and cook meals, even changed most of the diapers for the first three months to alleviate stress and give Ana a break. He said in his mind, performing these tasks made things easier for his partner, but she was becoming more frustrated and closed off.
“I honestly felt super-defeated a lot of the time … and definitely felt isolated from Ana at times,” Nick said, adding the days when they wouldn’t talk were hard because they were both on leave in the same house.
The quarterly peer-reviewed medical journal, “Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience” — available through the National Center for Biotechnology Information — states development of PPPD occurs typically between three and six months after birth, and in some cases up to one-year post delivery.
For the Cramers, parenthood had more downs than ups during the first seven months after their son’s birth, and Nick admitted the worst of it all occurred between two and five months postpartum.
PPPD is particularly concerning because of the way it manifests outwardly. Children are very susceptible at birth and are sensitive to those in their environments.
According to the medical journal, paternal depression can lead to decreased sensitivity. Children living with depressed fathers also have a 33-to-70% increased chance of developing emotional or behavioral problems.
The medical journal concluded that pre-existing depression can adversely affect newborns and cause higher level of distress.
Treatment is treatment
Peripartum depression, or depression associated with having a baby, is considered a Major Depressive Episode (MDE) and should be treated accordingly. Because MDE presents itself in males and females, treatment for paternal depression is administered almost identically to its counter.
Medication and psychotherapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy) have proven very effective for the treatment of PPPD as well as getting regular exercise and social interaction.
“I tried to get out and see friends or go for a run,” Nick recounted, stating it didn’t always help, but it provided a breather for him to even out and calm down.
As awareness for PPPD moves to the forefront, clinicians are encouraged to screen for PPPD for the first year postpartum and pay close attention to those with higher levels of anxiety.
The medical journal iterates the importance of early PPPD treatment, stating it improves the quality of life for the family unit and reduces the risk of emotional or behavioral problems in children. Letting go of “old-school” masculinity stereotypes provides a space for fathers undergoing the transitive motions of fatherhood.
WHERE TO TURN:
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts don’t hesitate to reach out. Included in this article are two numbers for immediate support.
Postpartum Support International: 503-894-9453, English; 971-420-0294, Spanish.
LaramieCares Foundation: call or text 307-977-7777