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New Dads Face Increased Anxiety and Mental Health Risks

Sep 19, 2023 | Depression, Family Issues, Mental Health, Overwhelmed

The topic of postpartum depression (PPD) in new fathers is gaining attention, alongside the well-known baby blues experienced by new moms. A recent study conducted by researchers at UNLV delves into the experiences of new fathers with PPD, shedding light on the challenges they face in seeking diagnoses and treatment for this often-overlooked condition.

The study revealed that between 5 to 10 percent of new fathers in the United States suffer from PPD, a number that can increase to 24 to 50 percent if their partners also experience PPD. The research team, led by Professor Brandon Eddy from UNLV’s Couple and Family Therapy department, explored the personal accounts of new dads from various sources such as blogs, websites, forums, and chat rooms. Six major themes emerged from their analysis:

  • Needing education: Many fathers were unaware that men could experience PPD and were surprised to learn that others went through it. Those who noticed PPD symptoms in men struggled to label it accurately. They also expressed frustration with a lack of information from healthcare professionals and resources focused solely on helping their wives.
  • Adhering to gender expectations: New dads felt pressured to conform to traditional “tough guy” stereotypes, making it difficult for them to open up about their emotions.
  • Repressing feelings: Fear of appearing weak or foolish to their wives, who were the primary caregivers, discouraged fathers from sharing their feelings.
  • Feeling overwhelmed: New fathers found it challenging to express emotions like confusion, exhaustion, helplessness, loneliness, and feeling trapped. Lack of sleep after childbirth exacerbated stress and depressive symptoms, making them more irritable towards their babies’ cries.
  • Resentment of the baby: While many fathers expressed joy and excitement about their children’s arrival, some felt resentment towards the constant demands and attention required by the baby. A few even discussed suppressing harmful thoughts towards the baby or themselves.
  • Experience of neglect: Fathers felt neglected and overlooked by their spouses, the healthcare system, and society. The lack of adequate support left them feeling lost and forgotten.

These findings align with previous research on the barriers faced by fathers experiencing PPD. The lack of information and social stigma often leads dads to distance themselves from their children, which can contribute to marital difficulties.

Studies elsewhere have shown that paternal involvement has numerous positive outcomes for children, including reduced hostile behavior in boys, lower delinquency rates for both genders, higher IQ scores during early development, and lower levels of emotional distress. Conversely, fathers suffering from PPD may report decreased communication with their partners, higher rates of substance abuse, and domestic violence.

The researchers highlighted the societal expectations imposed on men, affecting how they cope with life stressors, as a significant factor in their experiences. To combat the negative impact on families, it is crucial to reduce the stigma surrounding PPD and make information on paternal PPD more accessible.

Currently, there is no specific assessment designed to screen men for PPD. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, an independent group of experts, recently recommended depression screening for all women before and after childbirth. Given the importance of paternal involvement and the increasing rates of PPD in fathers, the researchers argue that fathers should also be included in this recommendation.

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