Hey new dads, soon-to-be dads, and dads with another on the way! With Father’s Day right around the corner, we wanted to make sure you were in the right head (and heart) space to fully enjoy the occasion. All parents have days when they are overcome with stress, question their ability to parent responsibly, or simply wonder: How am I going to do this for the next 18 years?
The good news is, it’s 100% normal to have such thoughts (occasionally). But that’s the key word. You shouldn’t be feeling this way all the time. And if you are, you may be suffering from a form of depression directly related to being a new(ish) dad.
It’s called paternal postpartum depression (PPPD), and we should be making every effort to talk about it more openly and take it just as seriously as PPD (mom’s version). Here are three reasons why:
- Depression isn’t something that goes away on its own. In fact, it worsens when left untreated.
- PPPD can take a toll on your marriage, your friendships, your relationships with extended family members, and can stop you from taking part in activities you once enjoyed.
- PPPD can negatively impact the emotional development of your children – especially your boys – during their most formative years.
Why me? Why now?
PPPD is a relatively new phenomenon. Experts agree that it’s likely due to the fact that societal expectations regarding a father’s role in child-rearing have gone up by leaps and bounds in recent years.
Couples are sharing both work and parenting responsibilities like never before (and rightly so!), but with the joys of fatherhood comes the stress, anxiety and lack of sleep that was once considered a mother’s burden.
So if you’re feeling down, but think you can’t say anything because you’ve got to be “the rock of the family” let us stop you right there. You want to be the best dad and partner you can be, right?
That means you need to acknowledge how you are feeling and do something about it – sooner rather than later. And don’t let feelings of shame stop you from taking action. You aren’t the only one going through this.
The truth is, PPPD is becoming more and more prevalent, which means it’s very likely some of your fellow father friends may be feeling it too. They just aren’t talking about it for the same reasons you aren’t.
Still skeptical? Check out these stats:
- As many as one in four new dads are experiencing PPPD. The estimated range is 4-25%
- 10% show signs as early as the first trimester up until their little one turns six months old
- 26% experience PPPD between the time their baby is three to six months old
- In general, dads experience increased rates of depression during “early fatherhood,” or until their little ones turn five
So what causes PPD and how do I know if I’m at risk?
New moms aren’t the only ones whose hormones are all over the place. Did you know that during early fatherhood your testosterone levels are down and your estrogen levels are up?
While this is evolution’s way of helping you bond with your new baby, it also increases your risk of developing PPPD. But hormones aren’t the only thing to blame. PPPD is often the result of a combination of factors that could include:
- Family history of depression
- Marital problems
- Financial or work stress
- Anxieties about your new responsibilities as a dad
- Sleep deprivation
- Premature, colicky, or sick baby
- If you’ve experienced the death of a loved one
Those at greatest risk are those whose partners are experiencing postpartum depression. In fact, the likelihood of developing PPPD in this case is 2.5 times higher. If your wife has PPD, now would be a really good time to actively seek out the supports you both need as new parents.
Be open to suggestions that you may have once scoffed at. Explore avenues like couples’ therapy, bringing in outside help, or coming up with a sleep schedule that gives you both the opportunity to get some much-needed shut eye.
Are there signs I should be watching out for?
While it’s certainly not unheard of for new parents to experience anxiety, stress or some “baby blues,” it should become a concern if your negative thoughts or feelings linger. If it’s been two weeks (or more) and you’re still not feeling yourself, it may be time to seek professional help. If you’re just so exhausted that you don’t know what “normal” feels like anymore, here are some signs to watch out for:
- Easily angered or crying for no reason
- Feeling frustrated, irritable or cynical
- Feeling unmotivated, unproductive, or being unable to concentrate
- Violent behaviour or risk-taking
- Alcohol or drug use that is out of the ordinary
- Social withdrawal and loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Workaholic tendencies
- Weight gain or loss
- Physical symptoms, like headache or stomach upset
How can I fix this?
Talk about it
One of the most effective coping strategies is talking. Whether you turn to your partner, a trusted friend, or a family member – getting it off your chest can feel like a huge weight has been lifted. Not only that, but by opening yourself up to people in your life, you’re making it easier for those who care to give you the support you need.
Seek professional help
If you don’t like the idea of sharing your feelings with people you know, you may want to consider talk therapy with a professional. Just make sure to select a therapist you feel comfortable with. Did you know that many will offer a free trial session where you can ask questions, talk about your goals, and ultimately, decide if they are the right fit?)
If in-person care feels daunting, therapists can also be accessed virtually or even via text. And, of course, you can always speak with a mental health professional through League’s Mental Health Concierge.
If talking just isn’t for you (and you aren’t getting any better), you may want to talk to your doctor about antidepressants. Just be sure to read and understand the side effects before you go this route.
Find time for you
Two words: Self care. This is the part where you need to actively ensure that you are still taking the time you need to relax and de-stress. Whether it’s spending time outdoors, enjoying a drink with a friend, or having a regularly scheduled movie night with your partner, make sure you are setting aside some time for you.
It may seem close to impossible during those first few months (or years!) of fatherhood, but make it a priority just like you would a work meeting or a dentist appointment. It’s for your mental health, after all. And hey, you’re a dad now, you deserve it!