At a time when discussions on post-natal depression are rife, a study published in the ‘Journal of Mental Health’ finds that men too go through it, but the signs are often misinterpreted for fatigue or stress. And guess what! Even men aren’t aware of it.
A study conducted among 406 British adults on maternal and paternal post-natal depression shows that 90.1 per cent of the participants correctly described females experiencing postnatal depression, while only 46.3 percent did so for males. Participants of both sexes were less likely to say that there was something wrong with fathers (76 percent) compared to mothers (97 percent). The study points out that people are more likely to believe that something is wrong when a woman displays the symptoms of post-natal depression, and they ignore the signs in men as the popular belief that postnatal depression is a ‘woman’s issue’ due to gender-specific factors such as pregnancy-induced hormonal changes and delivery complications. Paternal depression is said to have negative impacts on family as a whole. Other than changes in hormones in fathers, there are ecological risk factors such as excessive stress from becoming a parent, lack of social support system for parenting and feeling excluded from mother-infant bonding, which might result in the condition.
Researchers also observe that men who experience symptoms of post-natal depression may not be confident about asking for help and may be missed by healthcare professionals also.
How real is paternal postnatal depression? What care is required for healthy parenting and graceful acceptance of parenthood for new parents? How to help them cope with stressful life of parenthood? What are the steps to be taken to be supportive partners, create awareness and proper treatment? We talk to psychiatrists, parents and relationship experts to know more.
Physical exertion can lead to stress
A lot of diagnostic criteria shows that post-natal depression occurs only for women. This is mainly because women undergo a lot of biological (breast feeding) and physical stresses, while men only go through physical (taking care of baby, cleaning diapers, staying up all night etc.). For mothers, it’s a sudden drop in hormone levels from the time of birth while for the fathers, the symptoms are a lot more subtle. I’ve noticed that men who have come to me with depressive symptoms after the delivery of their child, most often have a predisposition for depression, insomnia etc. Although this may not be the overall trend, this is definitely a factor. A lot of physical exertions also result in psychological stresses that are very often ignored. Men are expected to be the ‘strong’ ones and this means that, a lot of the times, many factors like stresses due to academics and loan payments often get brushed off. If this is the case for stresses like these, post-natal stresses are overlooked a majority of the time since it is expected to be tiring. When gone unchecked, these stresses can manifest as physical symptoms. This is why men are more prone to cardiac arrest. Asking for help is very important and signs shouldn’t be overlooked just because of their gender.
Men need attention
Before delivery of the first child, the men usually receive intimate attention from their wives. After delivery, when the wife gets a new responsibility as a mother and her whole attention and focus shifts to their child, the husbands usually enjoy the first few days but later on when they are no longer getting this priority from their wives, a feeling of rejection and denial comes over them. The wife usually can’t understand this particular feelings of her husband. According to the culture or belief system in our Kerala, the wife after delivery is not supposed to have an intimate relationship with her husband, which all adds up to the reasons why some husbands undergo this paternal post-natal depression. Even if they are undergoing this type of depression, they don’t usually project out their feelings due to the environment they were raised in and this fragile depression that takes over them are usually left unnoticed. To cope with this depression, some husbands take refuge in alcohol. We should have a system in which after delivery both the parents should be given counselling and made aware of the type of depressions that can come into play
Husbands might feel left out
To deal with depression, men need to start with a few steps. Right from marriage, the pressure on men starts; they have to earn and provide for the family.
When a woman enters his life, he has to start sharing everything with her.
During pregnancy, the man might start feeling left out. He feels at lost of his companion either for a walk or for a dinner date.
But women might not have the energy to. Men too experience mood swings at that time of their lives.
In the next level, it’s very important for a man to focus on supporting his wife during childbirth and everything which she goes through.
In the post-natal phase, the father is totally aloof and cut out.
As a father, he is on his own and goes through a host of issues, dealing with a lot of other matters.
Initially, the mother and the baby become very close, and till the baby get accustomed to the father and bonds with him as well, the man would feel left out to a large extend.
Definitely, men do go through certain amount of post-natal depression after they face intimacy issues of which they can’t talk about.
It is proven that during pregnancy and childbirth, extra-marital affairs increase among men.
The solution is to do a lot for the wife. Men should ‘get involved’ in the process of pregnancy, take a walk together with their spouse or help her.
He should actively engage in matters like sports or hobbies.
Partners should help each other
Considering the negative impacts of post-natal depression in males and females due to emotional and behavioural changing patterns, it is important for both partners to understand the issue and to help each other. They need to consider the circumstances and learn to cope with it by avoiding isolated environments, and by living a healthy lifestyle. They need to have realistic expectations from one another.
Couple should take some time off
The journey of pregnancy is taken by both the parents equally. So both of them experiencing post-natal depression can’t be written off. Also as nowadays, in most cases both the parents work. Taking some time off for themselves should be the first step before slipping into fatigue or depression. Moreover, both the mother and the father should share the responsibility of taking care of the child like staying awake till late night until the baby sleeps, household chores. Depression or fatigue only comes into play when no one is there to talk and share what they are going through individually. Taking care of each other after child birth is the key.
An extention of the couvade syndrome
Possibly an extension of the Couvade syndrome for men where they feel as pregnant as their expectant partners in terms of weight gain, altered hormone levels, morning nausea, and disturbed sleep patterns. The difference at post-pregnancy being that the new mother is also going through it viscerally (more hormonally) — her body reminding her every second of the journey it has undertaken, whereas for the man, it’s not a physical experience as much a psychological one. I also believe that each father will have different paternal instincts, corresponding to the deep levels of engagement.