Long recognized as a problem afflicting some new mothers, postpartum depression can also grip men – though mental health professionals acknowledge that until recently they largely overlooked that fact. Male postpartum depression took a step out of obscurity recently when it was for the first time the subject of a workshop at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.
Ten percent of new fathers and 14 percent of new mothers are affected by depression, says psychologist James Paulson, assistant professor of pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va.
Yet most men and their partners fail to recognize the condition when it arises. The symptoms are similar in both sexes, but the causes may be different. Hormonal changes can contribute to a woman's suffering, experts suspect, whereas sudden and unexpected lifestyle changes are thought to trigger a father's depression.
“After the baby is born, there's a change in family structure,” says Thomas Newmark, chief of psychiatry at Cooper University Hospital, Camden, New Jersey, and organizer of the APA workshop. “There might be pressure to take care of the child economically. The man may not get the attention from his wife that he was used to. And, of course, his sleep is affected.”
Depressed dads are more likely than moms to display destructive behaviors, including increased use of alcohol or drugs, shows of anger, engagement in conflicts, and risk-taking such as reckless driving or extramarital sex.
A partner's involvement is usually critical to identifying depression in a new father. “Often times, it will be the wife who is first to notice,” says Berkeley, Calif., psychotherapist Will Courtenay, who specializes in men's health. “She'll say, ‘He just hasn't been himself lately.'”