The number of new dads with postpartum depression is way worse than we thought

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Having a baby is a lot harder than many of us want to admit.

You’ve undoubtedly heard of postpartum depression, typically thought of as a major risk for new moms due to hormonal changes and the overall strain of motherhood.

But a new study just suggested that serious depression after the birth of a child is affecting dads, too — and at way higher rates than we initially thought.

A surprising study from the University of Illinois Chicago suggests that new dads should be screened for postpartum depression.

Though we’ve been aware of this kind of depression in men for a while, it hasn’t typically been viewed as a major concern for most new fathers.

With these new findings, that might start to change.

The study found that 30% of the 24 dad participants showed signs of depression between 1 and 15 months after their child was born.

Previously, this number was believed by many to be closer to 10%.

That’s a pretty significant number, and it highlights the need for more attention to be paid to the mental health of new dads.

Of course, this was a small study and limited in its scope. But the findings demand that we investigate the problem further and take PPD in fathers seriously.

Researchers interviewed new fathers and asked them to rate their stress levels relating to a variety of topics.

For example, the men were asked to report their stress levels with finances, their relationship with the mother, and their role as a new dad.

Signs of depression cropped up in the group anywhere from 1 month to 15 months after the birth of their child.

Interestingly, many of the participants told researchers they were hesitant to admit to their feelings out of fear. They didn’t want to overshadow what the mother was going through or add more stress to her plate.

(A classic problem for men — opening up and being vulnerable.)

But it’s important for new dads to speak up and seek help if they’re struggling with depression or anxiety.

According to UnityPoint Health, symptoms of postpartum depression in men can include:

  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Risk-taking behaviors including substance and alcohol use
  • Detachment from the family
  • Easily stressed
  • Physical symptoms including headaches and stomachaches

Anger and irritability are the key differences in how PPD comes out in men versus women, who are more likely to be sad, disinterested, and reserved.

None of these are a good thing for the father’s relationship with his child and spouse, but it can get even worse. Severe cases of postpartum depression can rise to the level of suicidal ideation.

It’s critically important for anyone suffering from PPD to get the treatment they need!

The good news is that the pilot screening program involved in the study was highly successful.

Early screening was able to identify fathers who were struggling with depression and connect them with the resources they needed.

After screening, two fathers requested mental health services, and three established new primary care with a physician.

This is a great step towards incorporating the health of fathers into models for supporting the health of families. PPD is still far more common in new moms, but so is regular screening.

We need to make sure no one’s being left behind or overlooked.

Sam Wainwright, a pediatrician who led the study, continues to work with new fathers and hopes to encourage integrating screening for paternal PPD into routine primary care — a necessary step to reach more affected fathers early.