Becoming a parent is a major life transition. Although it is a time of celebration and new beginning, it also brings with it significant changes and challenges. Many parents struggle to adjust to the changes, and some parents experience postnatal depression and/or anxiety at some point during the perinatal period. The perinatal period includes pregnancy and the first year following childbirth. We have put together this guide to understanding emotional health & postnatal depression.
Men can experience depression after the birth of a child too
Many people are surprised to learn that approximately 5% men experience anxiety and depression when expecting a new baby and 10% experience anxiety or depression when they become a father. While mums often experience depression very soon after their baby’s birth, for dads depression can develop more gradually over the first year, with most experiencing depression when their baby is between 3 and 6 months. Despite feeling low, many fathers find it difficult to reach out for help.
What contributes to the experience of depression in Dads?
Having a baby leads to major life changes: financial, emotional and social, and the sheer number and magnitude of these changes can be overwhelming. Dads commonly feel stressed as they try to balance performing at work while sleep deprived and trying to support their partner and baby when they return home. Dads also commonly report feeling left out and overlooked during this time as the focus is on mum and the baby. In addition, many Dads find that there is little or no time for themselves. Dads who are supporting a partner with depression and anxiety are also more likely to experience depression themselves. This might be, in part, due to shared experiences, which can contribute to depression, such as limited family support, financial stress and sleep deprivation
Some signs that you might be struggling
Not managing may feel different for every dad. Many dads describe some of the following when struggling with an underlying depression 4,5:
- Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
- Feeling flat, empty or sad most days
- On-going irritability and anger
- Physical symptoms of stress such as indigestion, headaches and muscle tension
- Feeling constantly exhausted
- Using alcohol or other unhelpful ways to avoid or escape your situation
- Withdrawing from your family and friends and feeling unable to share your struggles
- Sleeplessness (unrelated to your baby) or sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite
- Finding it difficult to concentrate and make decisions
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
- Fear of taking care of your baby
- A loss of empathy and increased irritability towards your baby
- Feeling isolated and disconnected in your relationship with your partner
- Suicidal thoughts
Dads need to look after themselves too!
As a father, you might feel like you have to be the strong one and might not recognise your own needs for support. It’s important that if you are experiencing some of the symptoms above that you reach out for help, both for you and your family.
Here are a list of things you can do to improve your mood:
- Share how you feel. Speak about how you are feeling to someone who can provide support: your partner, family or friend. Sharing your struggles can make you feel less alone.
- Accept help. Accept all kinds of help from everyone. No one can do it all on their own. Help might include emotional or practical support including, a friend who will listen, food in the freezer, childcare and gardening.
- Reconnect with your partner. Make time to reconnect with your partner and share your experience with her or him. Chose a time in the evenings when you can focus on each other.
- Catch up with friends. Although it might feel like there is no time, try taking an hour or two out to see friends. Socialising with others can help you remember yourself.
- Stay active. Exercise has been found to have improve mood for adults with depression. It helps to tire out your body when stressed and improve sleep.
- Take one day at a time. Remember that this period of struggle won’t last forever. Focus on your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your family today and try to bring your mind back to the present when it starts predicting the future or saying… “what if…”.
- Intentionally bring your mind back to the present. Stand-alone mindfulness exercises have been found to improve symptoms anxiety and depression. You can find an array of helpful guided meditations on the app: insight timer.
Where do I get help for myself if I need it?
If you feel like you are struggling to cope, overwhelmed, depressed or confused, you may wish to discuss this with your doctor. Remember that the Medicare rebate for psychological sessions applies for men too. Talk to your GP for a referral.
If you are having thoughts of wanting to harm yourself or others consider getting in touch with your GP and either calling emergency services (000), attending your local hospital or calling one lifeline on 13 11 14.