About five per cent of Australian men develop postnatal depression in the first year after their child is born. While many men and first-time fathers are thrilled by the arrival of their newborn, it can also be a time when anxiety, stress and depression are triggered.
It may be that their expectations of being a father do not always mirror what is going on in real-life. It may seem like a scary and bewildering time. Perhaps it is not surprising then that about one in five men experience anxiety after the baby is born – this can be prevalent if the infant is premature or unwell.
Some men may put enormous pressure on themselves to be the “ideal” Dad, while others may find it hard to come to terms with all the upheavals experienced in the early stages of fatherhood; they may even feel a sense of loss about changes in their relationship, including intimacy, the lack of me-time and so on.
While there is not one reason why men experience postnatal depression, the possibility of developing it after a baby is born is greater if a man has:
- He has been depressed before;
- He experiences a lack of practical, social and emotional support;
- His relationship with his partner is under strain;
- His partner is already experiencing depression and anxiety;
- There are ongoing financial difficulties;
- He suffers from poor physical health and does not look after himself;
- He does not bond with his baby;
- He is worried he will be considered “less of a man” if he reveals his feelings, fears and concerns or find help.
Dads, including first-time fathers, may not even be aware that they show signs of postnatal depression, as it is easy to dismiss it as exhaustion or feeling moodier than normal.
However, if your symptoms include: irritability, feeling hopeless, poor concentration, crying a lot or feeling teary, feeling numb, a low mood or negative feelings for a period longer than two weeks, you may want to see your GP or seek help from a mental health professional.
Accept that it is at this time that finding support from family and friends can be really beneficial and not a sign of weakness.
What can fathers with postnatal depression do to help themselves?
- Recognise that you are feeling this way, acknowledge it and accept that it is okay to feel all your feelings;
- Talk to friends, siblings, work colleagues, other Dads and people you trust about what you are going through. You may well find you are not alone and this will help give you perspective;
- Try and establish daily healthy habits such as eating a balanced diet, schedule some time to exercise and find some regular me-time to relax and reflect;
- Consider seeking professional help such as a counsellor;
- Ask around for men’s support groups in your area;
- Talk to your partner on a daily basis, even if it is for less than half an hour as keeping the lines of communication between both of you is one of the best ways to help each other understand how you are each feeling;
- Try to avoid thinking that you need to “fix” everything and accept you will make mistakes;
- If, a year after your baby is born, you are still feeling irritable and tired, see your GP.
If this blog has raised issues for you (or someone you know) and you would like more information on fathers and post-natal depression, you might like to know that the Western Sydney Referral Service offers both individual and family counselling as well as support services specifically for men. For more details, go to https://www.relationshipsnsw.org.au/support-services/wsfrs/