Postpartum depression doesn’t affect only moms – dads are also at risk

Since celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and Drew Barrymore shared their struggle with postpartum depression, this condition is more visible than ever. Before, people were afraid to speak about their fight with emotions they never expected to experience. But now they can follow celebrities’ example and seek help for their depression. Most of the times, moms are suffering from postpartum depression, but Adam Busby, starring in the reality TV show OutDaughtered, also shared his fight with postpartum depression. The worst part is that dads often receive backlash when they open up about their struggle. 

Even if many people are sceptic that men can experience postpartum depression, it’s a very real condition and 10% of the men who show signs of depression do it following the birth of a child. Women experience this condition because of a hormonal shift, but research hasn’t found yet the connection between hormones in men and their postpartum depression. 

In an attempt to find more about postpartum depression in men, the Scientific American experts tested the levels of testosterone in men, and they found out that this hormone can predict if they are at depression risk. 

Testosterone levels change through different life stages

Testosterone is an androgen hormone that influences the development and maintenance of male secondary sex characteristics. It supports body hair growth, muscle mass, competitive behaviour and sexual arousal. 

The research revealed that testosterone dips in new fathers, both humans or animals. Among the species that engage in biparental care, males register lower testosterone levels after the birth of offspring. 

Human males also experience low levels of testosterone around the birth of children. The anthropologist, Lee Gettler conducted a study of testosterone and fatherhood and he found out that the men who spend more time with their kids have lower testosterone levels and it’s believed that parental caregiving suppresses their hormones. 

Research hasn’t confirmed yet the factors that lead to low testosterone in new fathers but some theories promote the proximity to the infant and partner, high stress levels and disrupted sleep. 

Depression levels spike when testosterone decreases

Low testosterone leads to depression in men because it enhances the feelings of disinterest and lethargy people have when they engage in pleasurable activities. Once they lose these feelings, they are closer to depression. Some psychiatrists recommend male patients suffering from depression to take testosterone supplements to alleviate their symptoms. But there are no studies to show the connection between low testosterone levels and postpartum depression. 

Stats show that depression in dads is common because it affects 2-25% of fathers in the first year postpartum. The American Academy of Paediatrics states that the rate can reach 50% when the mom also experiences postpartum or perinatal depression. This condition can take a great toll on the entire family when left untreated. 

Risk factors for postpartum depression in fathers

Pregnancy doesn’t change only the mother’s life, but also her partner’s. They parents-to-be experience major changes in their life because they have to prepare for the moment when they’ll care for their baby. And if the pregnancy involves more than one baby, then the stress is even higher. So, all new parents need to be aware of the factors that can trigger postpartum depression. 

  • Low testosterone levels. Both parents should get medical screening both during pregnancy and after birth to find out if their hormone levels can trigger medical conditions. 
  • Work or financial stress. Even if a child is a blessing, many parents feel overwhelmed, especially when they didn’t prepare for a pregnancy. An unexpected pregnancy can create huge amounts of stress for both parents. Work stress can also trigger parental depression because fathers worry that they cannot offer their children the best or they cannot spend enough time with their kids because of their busy schedule. 
  • Maternal depression can influence the father’s behaviour because he finds difficult to care for the baby when the mother experiences depression symptoms. 
  • Some dads find no reward in parenting and this can cause negative emotions
  • Feeling excluded. Their partner spends more time with the baby, especially during the first months because they require great care and attention, so the father may feel excluded or even jealous over mother-child bonding. 
  • Lack of intimacy. During the last months of pregnancy and immediately after giving birth women find sexual intercourse uncomfortable or even painful. Sometimes the doctor prohibits any sexual act to protect the health of the mother and the baby. But this changes the partners’ relationship and the father can experience negative emotions. 

It’s always important to address the problem and to communicate with the partner to find solutions to solve the situation and prevent depression. Seeing a therapist can help men suffering from parental depression understand that their emotions are normal and natural. 

What symptoms pinpoint depression?

Men show different symptoms than women when they deal with depression. They don’t cry when they’re frustrated or angry, but they’re easily irritable, impulsive, and they cannot find pleasure in things they liked before. When men deal with depression, they engage in substance use (from alcohol to drugs), domestic violence, and discourage the mother from breast pumping or breastfeeding. 

Their jealousy transforms in hate for their children and partner, and they isolate themselves from their family. The parents’ mood influences their interactions with the children, and they must seek help the moment they notice they aren’t able to connect with their child or partner. 

Depressed fathers often spank their children, no matter their age, and refuse to interact with them in positive ways as playing games, reading books, singing songs or other similar activities. Parental depression is often associated with conflictual marital relationships that trigger depression in mothers. 

Children of parents suffering from depression are more likely to deal with emotional and behavioural issues. 

Bottom line: It’s recommended both mothers and fathers to talk to a health care professional when they experience negative emotions. Seeing a therapist can help them improve their state and build a love-based connection with their family members.