I’m sure that many men suffer from post-natal depression of sorts, but I question calling it post-natal depression alongside the common female condition.
I consider having children was easily the biggest and best achievement of my life, but it was also brought about the biggest change in my life. And over the next 25 years it wasn’t always easy.
Men have to adjust to possibly the love of their life transforming from mutual devotion to their focus shifted substantially on a new person in their lives. A first baby especially forces huge changes on lifestyles and relationships. Sleep deprivation on it’s own can cause problems.
The pluses far outweigh the minuses for me, but there were challenges for sure.
However men have nothing like the challenges of carrying a growing human being for about nine months, the physical trauma of giving birth, the hormonal changes during and afterwards, and the maternal instinct that demands a shift in attention to a new dependant person at their most needy and vulnerable.
But despite the differences Stuff labels father’s struggles alongside those that mothers face.
New fathers can also struggle with post-natal depression
Research from the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study released in February reported 6.2 per cent of men experienced depression symptoms from the third trimester of pregnancy to nine months after birth.
That doesn’t surprise me, but I wonder how that compares to overall rates of male depression.
“It was a good eight or nine weeks of almost running out of the house to go to work in the morning so I didn’t have to be with this attention seeking little human.”
It was the midwife who joined the dots.
“I told her the baby was crying for no reason at all and she said, ‘Neil, your child is four weeks old. She is crying because she needs something.’
“She said, ‘Have you thought about the fact you might have the baby blues? What you’re experiencing are the typical signs for the dad, but it never gets spoken about'”
It was the first he had heard of it, but identifying what was going on helped him take a step back, and tackle the same feelings when they arrived after the birth his son, three years later.
“But without that chat with the midwife, I would have had myself down as not being the fathering type.”
This sounds like having difficulties adjusting to fatherhood. It’s common for people to struggle at times with major changes in their lives.
Antoinette Ben, executive director at Post and Ante-Natal Distress Support Wellington, estimated for every 10 women who asked her organisation for help, one father would come forward – and most were first-time dads.
Not surprising considering the often huge lifestyle change, relationship change, sex life change, responsibility change and change in sleeping opportunities and patterns and length.
Dr Dougal Sutherland of Victoria University School of Psychology said some dads were unable to recognise they were struggling with their mental health.
“Particularly with a first child, you’re so deeply in it with the first baby, it’s very hard to see out over the edge of the parapet, so to speak, because you’re up to your neck in nappies and bottles,” Sutherland said.
“I have certainly spoken to guys who’ve felt jealous towards the baby, they’ve felt unloved and unwanted by their partners because all the attention is focused on the baby and they’re saying ‘what about me?'”
Fathers can face real problems but I think they are different to some (not all) of the bigger changes mothers have to contend with.
Sutherland said socialising with other dads can help, as well as ensuring there was a wider support network behind them.
Boothby wanted new dads who were having a tough time to know they weren’t alone, and hoped they would have the courage to talk to someone.
“There is such a macho-ism around being a new father and being the protector – but it is natural and there is people out there who are aware of it.”
The role of (many) fathers has changed a lot over the last half century. It is far more common now for fathers to be much more involved in the pregnancy, birth and raising of children.
It figures that that will bring with it different pressures and challenges, and that will affect mental health of some.
Fathers do have something different to contend with though – if the mother has post-natal depression that can exacerbate the pressures and stresses of being a father
Real issues, but not the same as female post natal depression.
I became a father with zero experience, but looked forward to the chance to become a dad. I encouraged an early exit from the maternity home – in those days a week was still the norm and less had to be fought for.
I just wanted to get the newly formed family home so we could do things ourselves without the interference of nurses – they meant well and were a help but also in those days tended to dismiss the input of fathers.
Having a very capable mother helped quite a bit, but for the biggest job of my life I learned on the job. that seems remarkable in a way, given the responsibilities. But humans, like any animals, have parented like this forever, using instinct and common sense.
I came through it all pretty well I think – when I see the resulting kids (now adults) and grand kids I’m very happy, and I’m grateful that the pressures and problems didn’t weigh down too heavily on me.
I was fortunate not to have to deal with serious child health or behavioural issues, some parents have to cope with far more than I ever did.
All dads have difficulties adjusting and ongoing challenges raising a family. For whatever reason some have more serious difficulties I hope they seek and get the support they need.
“Plunket’s message to mums and dads is that it is never too early or too late to ask for help.”