Male Postpartum Depression: Recognize it and Treat It

Written by
Jacquelyn Buffo @ 8fit
Written by
Jacquelyn Buffo @ 8fit
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When you think of postpartum depression, you may envision a woman who has just given birth experiencing symptoms of depression. While this thought isn’t wrong, it may be limited in the sense that postpartum depression doesn’t only affect women. 

Men are at risk of developing postpartum depression as well. However, male postpartum depression isn’t as widely discussed or researched as postpartum depression in women. Whether you are male or female, the changes that come with bringing a baby into the world can be tough, and the life transition can be challenging.

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is a series of depression symptoms that occur within the first year after childbirth. The symptoms can be debilitating and cause major problems in many areas of life, which can include your mental and emotional health, your ability to parent, and your ability to perform work and daily tasks.

Symptoms of postpartum depression can include:

  • Frequent crying spells with no identifiable trigger

  • Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and emptiness

  • An increase in irritability and anger

  • Anhedonia, a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable

  • A change in appetite and eating habits; eating too much or too little

  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much

  • Social withdrawal

  • Difficulty connecting to the newborn baby

  • Self-doubt

  • Thoughts of suicide

  • Thoughts of self-harm

  • Muscle tension and physical pain

  • Weight gain or weight loss

  • Mood swings

  • Trouble with memory and information processing

A common occurrence after childbirth is called the “baby blues.” The baby blues is a milder form of postpartum depression and usually resolves after several days or within a week after childbirth. If your symptoms do not resolve within this time frame, or if they intensify in severity, you may be experiencing postpartum depression.

It's not just postpartum. Click here for 10 signs of depression in men and how to overcome depression.

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

The actual cause of postpartum depression is unknown. However, researchers believe that it is a combination of biological and environmental factors. Biological risk factors are elements within the body that change. 

We all know that a woman’s hormone levels change drastically after giving birth. A man’s hormone levels can also contribute to his acquisition of male postpartum depression. While a man’s hormone levels don’t change as drastically as a woman’s after she gives birth, his hormone levels do fluctuate, which can contribute to the onset of male postpartum depression.

Biological risk factors in male postpartum depression include low levels of hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, prolactin, and oxytocin. Environmental factors that can increase a male’s risk include low social supports, an increase in responsibilities and daily demands, interrupted or little sleep, changes in the marriage, difficulty developing a bond with the infant, and feeling excluded from the mother-child bonding. Bringing a baby into the world changes your environment almost instantaneously. A male’s role and responsibilities often intensify, and the demands can cause considerable stress.

Postpartum Depression in Men

No one questions the fact that women go through many adjustments after they give birth. Body and hormone changes, inconsistent sleep, and having a living, breathing human 100 percent dependent upon you for its survival can add a lot of stress, anxiety, and depression. 

This adjustment period can also affect men. To be diagnosed with postpartum depression, you must experience a major depressive episode after the birth of a baby. These symptoms overlap with postpartum depression symptoms.

Symptoms of a major depressive episode include:

  • Irritability and mood swings

  • Loss of energy

  • Appetite and weight changes

  • Difficulty focusing and concentrating

  • Thoughts of death

  • Anhedonia (loss of pleasure)

  • Chronic feelings of sadness, emptiness, or anxiety

  • Feeling empty

  • Slow or rapid movements

  • Sleep changes

  • Suicide or self-harming behaviors

Research on male postpartum depression is limited. However, the research that does exist shows that anywhere between 4 and 25 percent of fathers experience postpartum depression. In fact, male postpartum depression has been positively correlated with maternal postpartum depression: There is a stronger likelihood of postpartum depression in men if the women experience postpartum depression.

Research also indicates that men diagnosed with anxiety disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder may be at a higher risk for developing male postpartum depression. Also, studies indicate that men who suffer from postpartum depression report an increase in substance use, domestic violence, and poor communication with their partners.

Why Male Postpartum Depression Goes Untreated

Unfortunately, men are less likely than women to seek help for postpartum depression — or any other mental health issue, for that matter. While there are formal screenings that women can undergo through their primary care physician or OBGYN after giving birth, there is no formal assessment for men to screen for postpartum depression. This means that men may experience depression after childbirth and have no support or help for their symptoms.

Society has had a pretty firm definition of parental roles in generations past. A woman’s role and a man’s role in a child’s life has been viewed very differently. Historically, the mother has been expected to be the caretaker and nurturer, while the father has been expected to be the strong disciplinarian. 

Although parental roles may be viewed more fluidly today, those stigmas still exist, and they affect the ability of fathers to speak out and ask for help. Many fathers may feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help for depression. This fear can be debilitating and lead to substance abuse, domestic violence, relationship difficulties, difficulty bonding with their child, and lack of involvement in their child’s life.

Paternal involvement in children’s lives is a key factor in healthy child development. Boys display less aggression and hostility growing up if their fathers are involved in their lives. Also, paternal involvement leads to less child delinquency for both boys and girls, higher IQ in children, and an increased ability to manage and regulate emotions effectively in children.

Ways to Treat Male Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression can be treated in a variety of ways. Talk therapy with a licensed professional counselor or therapist is a common treatment option. Medications such as antidepressants can help alleviate symptoms of depression as well. A combination of therapy and medication may be used depending on your symptom severity.

Worried about cost? Here's what to do if you can't afford therapy.

If you know someone who you feel may be at risk or may be experiencing postpartum depression, talk to them about it. The warning signs may be overt such as an increase in irritability, mood swings, aggression, or an increase in drug or alcohol use. They may be more discrete and may look like social isolation, a change in weight, or trouble concentrating. Offering support by providing a listening ear, childcare, or encouragement are some of the most helpful things you can do.

If you think you are experiencing postpartum depression, talk to a trusted loved one or medical professional. A treatment plan can be developed and tailored to your specific needs. As awareness for male postpartum depression grows, research increases, and social stigma declines, men will hopefully feel more comfortable reaching out for help and support during their difficult life transition.

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Feature photo by Patryk Sobczak on Unsplash

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