Are men REALLY affected by postpartum depression?
This is the question that I am either asked or perceive others to be thinking when I tell them about my specialty. Really? Postpartum… in men?
I am frequently met with enthusiasm and intrigue when I discuss this with colleagues and those in the birthing world. There are other times when it’s “I’ve never heard of that” (referring to postpartum in men) or a simple look of bewilderment.
I always welcome any questions and am often confronted with “Do men really get postpartum?”
If we take a look at the Merriam-Webster definition of postpartum depression: a feeling of deep sadness, anxiety, etc., that a woman feels after giving birth to a child, it would seem that it is something that only a woman, someone who has given birth can experience.
But let’s dig a little deeper and look at each word individually.
What does postpartum mean?
Strictly speaking postpartum simply refers to the time after a child is born. It literally translates from the Latin as ‘after birth’. We use the term in many settings which are not all associated with depression.
Postpartum massage (probably my wife’s favorite). Postpartum care. Postpartum vitamins. Postpartum exercise. And so on.
What is depression?
Simply put, depression is a medical illness in which a person experiences overwhelming feelings of sadness or irritability, a loss of interest or sense of pleasure, and may also be accompanied by feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.
We know that depression can strike at any time without any particular stressor or precipitating event. It can also be brought on by stressful events. Why then do we not think the birth of a child can be such an event?
The truth about postpartum depression
Postpartum depression is simply depression that occurs after the birth of a child. With this definition, we can see how it can affect both genders. In fact, research has shown that it does.
Let’s pause for a moment and think if the opposite were true. People still think that men cannot be affected by postpartum. So somehow a man cannot be depressed after the birth of his child?
If that were true, I have been treated my clients ineffectively all these years. Clearly, I should have simply been instructing them to get their partners pregnant. Childbirth being the panacea to man’s depression after all.
Obviously, this advise would be absurd! The fact is that men can and do become depressed after the birth of a child. In fact, many men can experience anxiety and depression upon finding out that their partner is expecting- even when it’s a planned pregnancy! (Referred to as prenatal depression)
We’re doing men a disservice
Society continues to tell men that they need to be strong. That they need to “Man up!” and that depression and anxiety are women’s issues. The truth is that having a baby can be scary. Raising a child can be terrifying.
Even when everything is going right, it can still be really, really hard!
That’s why I offer a safe space for new and expecting fathers to explore their doubts, their fears, their trepidation about being a dad.
Why not work with men to improve their confidence, help them bond with their babies, and learn to be the fathers that they may have never had themselves?
I hope that someday when I introduce myself and tell people what I do, I’m not met with puzzled looks or unfair judgment. Going to counseling is hard. Asking for help, especially as men, is exceedingly difficult. Developing skills to be a better partner, learning how to be a better father, and having the courage to explore one’s fears and desires is not a weakness but an ultimate display of strength.
If you or someone you care about may be struggling with the transition into fatherhood, give me a call. I’m more than happy to chat.