By Angela Borders and Joe Borders, MFT
August 13, 2018
Yes, Dads Sometimes Get Postpartum Too
After Joe’s post about how parenting is like a form of masochism, we got a lot of comments and discussion from people who said things like “oh man, I so needed to read this today” or “my husband feels just like this!”, and it got us thinking about something that has long been a big concern to us: there are NOT enough resources for struggling dads out there. While moms absolutely need support, and may be at a higher risk for postpartum depression (PPD), whether because of physical exhaustion, hormones, or just that whole, y’know making a baby thing, the fact of the matter is that a lot of the hard parts of having a baby AFFECT EVERYONE in the family, not just the mother! Sleepless nights? Yup. Total shift in lifestyle? Yup. Having to deal with levels of exhaustion you never thought feasible? Um, YUP. And yet, while there are numerous resources for moms in the area (something Angela will post about in an upcoming blog), there just really aren’t many for dads. In this post we want to talk about this problem, explain what Paternal Postpartum Depression is, and offer some ideas and resources for finding support.
What is Paternal Postpartum Depression?
If you’re already familiar with postpartum depression and/or depressive episodes, you may just want to skip ahead to the next section as the short answer is: it’s basically the same as regular postpartum depression! (Shocker, no?) In seriousness, of course the way PPD presents may be very different in men than in women, but that should be a given seeing as how any mental illness can present very differently from person to person, not just between sexes. But generally speaking, the best way to define any mental illness is to use the DSM-5, the standard manual of diagnosis used by most psychologists, and it defines postpartum depression as a depressive episode. To paraphrase, a depressive episode:
has five or more of the following symptoms (including at least one of depressed mood and loss of interest or pleasure) in the same 2-week period:
Depressed mood/ irritable mood in children and adolescents; Loss of interest or pleasure; Change in weight or appetite; Insomnia or hypersomnia; Psychomotor retardation or agitation; Loss of energy or fatigue; Worthlessness or guilt; Impaired concentration or indecisiveness; or Recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation or attempt.
Also the symptoms must be serious enough to cause distress or impede function, not be attributable to other issues like substance use or another medical or mental condition, and not include mania.
(All the italic text above is paraphrased from Epocrates, and is a brief glimpse at the exact criteria; if you’d like more thorough details, check out the info on Epocrates.)
So to put it succinctly: this ain’t your “baby blues”. Postpartum depression, in moms or dads, involves severe problems with sadness, pain, guilt, and/or lack of energy and interest in things that bring joy. And this is where we get into why it’s such a problem that we don’t have as many support systems for dads. Those symptoms, those severe problems? They are rarely even talked about (at least from our experience) regarding new dads.
Why You’ve Never Heard of Paternal Postpartum Depression
Plenty of people know that becoming a dad is a huge life change and that yes, it can bring stress and tough times. However, the idea of postpartum depression occurring in dads, not just moms, is rarely talked about. It’s been estimated that 10% of new dads get postpartum depression, and that’s a lot of people! So why is it that we don’t hear about this anywhere near as much as we do for new moms?
Well, we have our ideas, and we think the biggest culprit is probably to do with traditional gender roles. Whether we like it or not (emphasis on the not), our culture generally pushes men into the box of “provider”, “not emotional”, and “not supposed to show weakness/vulnerability”. Whereas women have been pushed into the box of “nurturing”, “emotional” and “social”. As you can imagine, this frustrates us greatly. As is pretty common knowledge, this, coupled with women being underrepresented and underpaid, has led to more men working and more women being home with their babies. Of course this is not the case everywhere for all people, and there are probably lots of factors, but at least in our little corner of suburbia in Roseville, it’s certainly what we’ve encountered. And it’s been frustrating!
Whether because of earning potential, a desire to provide, or maybe yes, depression, many men get right back to work very quickly, or don’t even take any time off of work when their babies are born. Add the need/costs of childcare, and it isn’t any wonder that more women stay home to care for their children than men. (Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it isn’t good when it’s not what everyone wants). The fact that not as many men take time off, or can get time off, to bond, figure things out, and find support, means that there is less demand, and less ability, for such supports for men to form. And this is really doing men a disservice.
Just doing a quick google search for resources for moms, you can easily find hundreds of options. For dads? Not so much. Yes there are definitely resources out there (check out the next section!), but they are far less common and many of them don’t involve the same level of support new moms can find. Many are more like clubs or hang outs, as opposed to the support group atmosphere that often includes seasoned medical and mental professionals, like at the resources most hospitals invite new moms to.
Take Angela for example. Before even having our son, she was given information for a support group (through Kaiser) and was attending regularly every week once he was born. Every week she got advice, input, support and empathy from a lactation consultant, a counselor, and a room full of sympathetic moms. Can you even imagine how helpful that sort of environment and support would be to struggling new dads?
Bring on the Resources!
We wish so much that we had hundreds of links and groups and other resources to share here (again, feel free to share any you know of and maybe we can come back and add them!), but like we said, there just isn’t much out there compared to for moms. But! There are some!
There are some great parenting and dads groups on meetup, and even some specific to particular issues (like parents of kids with special needs, geek parents, etc.) We’ve attended many meetup group gatherings and have met a lot of great people through meetup!
This group started in 2017, and I wish it had been around when our kid was younger. Might just have to check it out!
This is a great group, similar to the Kaiser group Angela attended, but it’s open to moms and dads! The last time we checked, the link for this group was down, but it may have changed. The link above goes to Catherine, the facilitator’s website.e
Herself Moms is a great resource for all new parents, not just moms. Angela went there for pre and postpartum yoga classes, and Julie, the owner, is a big sweetheart.
While it might be harder to find in person groups for dads, there are a ton of online groups! Here are some links to just a few; the last link is a list of top 10 facebook pages.
postpartummen.com –a resource for information and a survey to help assess if you may have PPD
http://www.postpartum.net/family/dads-mental-health/ –this one has a hotline dads can call/text, and a monthly “just for dads chat”
And of course, therapy is a great resource. If you or someone you know is struggling with issues related to parenting, being a new parent, or even maybe postpartum depression, check out our therapists who specialize in those issues. SacWellness is home to over 190 therapists located in the greater Sacramento area. This pretty much includes the areas between Davis and El Dorado Hills and between Elk Grove and Auburn.
Why We Wanted to Talk about PPD in Dads
Like we’ve mentioned, Paternal PPD is something that many have never even heard of, or would never think is a real issue, but for many it is! And far too many people struggle alone. We hope that by spreading awareness of this issue, and all mental health concerns, those who are struggling realize they are not alone, that they should not feel weak or ashamed, and most importantly that they can get access to help. If you or someone you know is struggling with PPD, know there is help out there.