Research indicates that one of every 10 new fathers may be at risk for postpartum depression in men. In addition to undermining their psychological well-being, postpartum depression in men can also prevent male parents from forming healthy bonds with their newborn children.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is an informal term for excessive sadness, diminished energy, and other distressing symptoms that a person experiences after giving birth. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the clinical term for postpartum depression is major depressive disorder with peripartum onset.
The DSM-5 defines peripartum as the period of time that begins during pregnancy and continues for up to four weeks after the person has given birth. According to the DSM-5, about half of all people who develop postpartum depression begin to exhibit symptoms while they are pregnant.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that postpartum depression affects about 13% of women who have given birth.
Can Men Really Develop Postpartum Depression?
The DSM-5 description of postpartum depression refers to women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth. But the symptoms of this disorder are not limited to women.
Transgender men, nonbinary individuals, and others who have given birth but who do not identify as female can experience the symptoms of postpartum depression.
Also, men whose partners have recently given birth may also develop this disorder, though estimates vary regarding how often this occurs:
- A 2010 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that about 10% of new fathers may develop postpartum depression.
- A 2019 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders stated that as many as 14% of men develop symptoms of postpartum depression in the months following the birth of their child.
Although the DSM-5 establishes a four-week postpartum timetable for developing major depressive disorder with peripartum onset, most men who experience symptoms of postpartum depression do so within two to six months after the birth of their child.
The Science Behind Postpartum Depression in Men
Experts believe that postpartum depression may be related to changes in hormones and other brain chemicals that occur in a person’s body during pregnancy. Since these changes don’t occur in male parents who don’t give birth, what is the science behind postpartum depression in men?
In a May 2019 article in the journal Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, psychiatrist Jonathan R. Scarff, MD, reported that the following may be risk factors for postpartum depression in men:
- Prior struggles with depression
- Discord in relationship with spouse or partner
- Unintended pregnancy
Scarff also noted that new fathers may undergo pregnancy-related hormonal changes of their own. For example, studies have shown that men often experience a decrease in testosterone production and an increase in estrogen levels when their partner is pregnant and during the first few months after the child’s birth.
Experts theorize that these hormonal changes may be the body’s way of preparing men for fatherhood, by decreasing their propensity for aggression and increasing their sympathetic responsiveness. Both of these developments may have a beneficial impact on the father’s ability to bond with their new child.
However, these changes in estrogen and testosterone, along with altered levels of cortisol, vasopressin, prolactin, and other hormones, may put some male parents at increased risk for postpartum depression in men. Among new fathers who have a history of depression, these hormonal changes may trigger a recurrence or worsening of symptoms.
Also, many of the lifestyle changes that are common to new parenthood – such as disrupted sleep patterns, lack of exercise, poor diet, and elevated stress levels — can also be risk factors for postpartum depression in men as well as in women.
What Are the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression in Men?
The symptoms of postpartum depression in men are similar to what women experience when they develop this disorder. Common signs and symptoms may include the following:
- Disrupted sleep patterns (including both hypersomnia and insomnia)
- Persistent exhaustion or fatigue
- Pervasive sadness or anxiety
- Dramatic mood swings, including sudden outbursts of anger
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing
- Frequent headaches and stomach aches
- Inability to form a strong emotional attachment with the child
- Appetite changes and resultant unintentional weight gain or loss
- Withdrawing from their partner and other loved ones
- Finding it difficult or impossible to experience joy
- Diminished self-esteem
- Loss of hope for the future
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
Anyone who exhibits these symptoms may be in crisis, and they should consult with a qualified healthcare provider. If a man begins to exhibit these signs after his partner has given birth, getting appropriate help can be beneficial for him, his relationship, and his child.
What Are the Effects of Postpartum Depression in Men?
Any untreated depressive disorder can put a person at risk for myriad immediate and long-term problems. In the case of postpartum depression in men, the potential negative effects include the following:
- Strained relationship with their partner
- Not bonding with their child during this crucial developmental period
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Diminished performance in school or at work
- Academic failure, job loss, and unemployment
- Financial difficulties
- Onset or exacerbation of co-occurring mental health disorders
- Medical problems due to impulsive behaviors or poor self-care
- Self-harm and suicide
A 2017 study in the journal Psychiatry Research noted that children may also be affected when their fathers have untreated depression.
This study, which was based on an analysis of 23 previous research efforts, reported that untreated postpartum depression in men can lead to the following negative outcomes among their children:
- Increased crying among infants and toddlers
- Conduct problems
- Developmental impairment
- Elevated risk of developing certain mental health disorders
It is important to remember that depressive disorders are treatable conditions. This includes postpartum depression in men.
When a man who has developed postpartum depression gets the care he needs, he can minimize the risk that he or his child will experience the negative outcomes listed above.
How Is Postpartum Depression in Men Treated?
Treatment for postpartum depression in men often includes prescription medication and psychotherapy.
Several medications have proved to be effective at easing or eliminating some of the symptoms of postpartum depression in men. Medication may also be beneficial if the person’s struggles with postpartum depression are accompanied by certain co-occurring mental health concerns.
Therapy can help men identify and address the issues that may have contributed to their development of postpartum depression. Therapy sessions can also be ideal forums for men to develop healthier communication, conflict-resolution, and problem-solving skills. In addition to helping men manage the symptoms of postpartum depression, therapy can also help them develop a healthier relationship with their partner and their child.
Therapy for men who have postpartum depression typically includes individual, group, and family sessions. Depending on the nature and severity of the symptoms that a man has been experiencing, treatment may occur through one or more of the following programs: residential care, partial hospitalization program (PHP), intensive outpatient program (IOP), or outpatient services.
Find Postpartum Depression Treatment for Men in Nashville, TN
Arbor Wellness is a trusted source of comprehensive care for men who have postpartum depression and other depressive disorders. Our center in Nashville, Tennessee, is a safe space where men can receive personalized treatment from a team of skilled and dedicated professionals. If you or someone that you care about has developed postpartum depression, the Arbor Wellness team is here to help. Contact us today to learn more.