Bringing home a baby is supposed to be a time of joy, but for many families this joy can be tinged by the onset of depression. If you think your man may be suffering from post-natal depression, here’s how you can help him.
While post-natal depression in women is well documented — with multiple avenues of support available through mothers’ groups and community health visits — post-natal depression in men is rarely discussed. If you think your partner is struggling with the arrival of your new bundle of joy, or another major change in his life, it’s time to find out what you can do to help.
Research shows that about 5 per cent of men experience depression in the year following the birth of their child. Like mums, dads face huge changes and challenges when they bring home a baby. Some believe that their offspring will enhance their relationship and — in time — they will. However, most find a new baby brings as much additional stress and unpredictability as joy, an outcome they may not have expected.
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According to Garry Thomson, executive general manager of On the Line, a man’s experiences of fatherhood can be influenced by a number of factors, including their individual characteristics, work pressures and marital satisfaction.
“Coming to terms with changes following the arrival of a baby can be challenging and often unsettling for new fathers,” says Thomson. “In extreme cases these challenges are profound and can lead to the development of psychological conditions such as depression or anxiety.”
Changes surrounding family structure have also served to place additional stresses on men. While the changes women face are well documented and understood, many of the same changes are experienced by men who may lack the ability to secure the assistance they need to get them through.
“Men now do more of the caring and household duties while balancing work and family life,” explains Thomson. “Even though we have come a long way over the past 50 years in recognising these pressures, society still pressures men to embody a strong, self-reliant, fearless and indestructible nature.” For men experiencing depression, overcoming these social expectations can be incredibly difficult.
The red flags of depression
There are a number of factors which can contribute to men experiencing symptoms of depression after the arrival of a child. For example, men are more likely to experience depression if:
- They haven’t prepared emotionally or psychologically for the arrival of a new family member and the beginning of a new phase in their life
- They have unrealistic expectations of what life will be like after the arrival of a baby
- They are unprepared to make the necessary changes that come with another set of responsibilities in their relationship with their partner
- Their wife or partner is themselves experiencing post-natal depression
Depression in men often shows up as a period of extended sadness following the birth of their child. They may feel lonely, stressed, isolated and inadequate. From the outside, you may be able to spot paternal post-natal depression in your partner if he is:
- Persistently feeling sad, inadequate or tired
- Disengaged or removing himself from social situations or activities he used to enjoy
- Isolating himself — physically or emotionally — from his regular support networks
- Becoming reliant on alcohol or other drugs
How you can help
According to Beyond Blue, men tend to put off getting help for depression because they think they are supposed to be tough, self-reliant and able to manage their pain. But depression is a serious and common condition which won’t get better by itself. Unfortunately, unlike a broken arm that obviously needs attention, depression causes an injury that cannot be seen. It is a difficult scenario for men to address as they are more likely to be able to recognise and describe physical symptoms. In fact, for men, it is the physical symptoms of depression — feeling tired, or losing weight — that are most likely to be recognised first.
Thomson suggests the best way to help a man who is suffering from suspected depression is to ask him how he is feeling, quietly encourage him to seek support from a GP or MensLine, make yourself available to talk when he is ready and show him that he is appreciated.
“Make sure you show him that his contribution to his family is vitally important to his child — he is just as important and as loved as mum. Sometimes dads just need to hear that!” suggests Thomson.
To find out more about depression in men, please visit the Beyond Blue website. If you are worried about a man in your life, MensLine Australia offers a free, professional support, information and referral service specially for men. Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it is available nationally for the cost of a local call. Simply contact MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78.