By Kim Hooper | July 19, 2021
"Many men struggle with mental health after becoming fathers. But stigma and societal norms keep them from getting help."
"When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I took a parent prep class in which they talked at length about the signs of maternal postpartum depression. My husband took detailed notes. After all, I had a history of depression and occasionally fell down dark, deep rabbit holes from which only medication and therapy could pull me out.
My husband, on the other hand, is the epitome of stable. When his parents died in our first few years of knowing each other, I required more comforting than he did. If I had taken bets on who between us would suffer depression following the birth of our daughter, every single one of our loved ones would have bet on me. And I wouldn’t have blamed them.
But it wasn’t me.
I’d never thought about the possibility of men struggling with depression after the birth of a child. At the time I was focused on the well-being of our daughter, as well as my own physical and mental health. But men do struggle also.
As many as one in six men can experience high levels of anxiety in the postpartum period, and about 10 percent of new dads experience postpartum depression. In the 3- to 6-month postpartum period, that rate climbs to 25 percent.
Perhaps the fact that my husband was low on my list of concerns contributed to the problem, a problem that dramatically impacted the first three years of our family’s life.
One weekday morning in 2019, while watching our then-21-month-old daughter sitting in her high chair, shoveling fistfuls of oatmeal into her face, my husband said:
“I hate this time of day.”
“Why?” I asked. From where I stood, it was all rather pleasant.
“I just hate parenting,” he said. “It’s relentless.”
I was not surprised to hear this. I had suspected a problem and had even started reading about postpartum depression online.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines depression “with peripartum onset” as a major depressive episode during pregnancy or within four weeks after birth. For men, this may develop more slowly over a full year.
Typically, symptoms of a major depressive episode may include feeling sad, crying, having recurrent thoughts of death and losing interest in activities. According to Sheehan D. Fisher, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, symptoms for men can differ.
“The actual DSM diagnosis of depression doesn’t always fit how men experience depression,” Dr. Fisher said. For men, symptoms may include frustration, agitation and irritability, an increase in dopamine-boosting activities (drinking, drugs, gambling) and isolation.
That was my husband — frustrated, irritable and detached. He went to bed before 7 p.m., claiming exhaustion, though I was the one getting up with our daughter every night. He snapped at the littlest things. He just wanted to be left alone.
I tried to help with pep talks: “She’s a good kid! We’re so lucky!” Then I remembered how, when I was depressed, such cheerleading only made me feel worse, as if I was letting others down with my inability to snap out of it.
So I whisked our daughter off to playgrounds, giving him time to lounge on the couch or obsessively clean, something he’d taken up as a hobby. I encouraged him to go surfing or grab a beer with a friend, but he shrugged off these suggestions.
I tried to initiate conversation, by asking how he felt. He just kept saying, “I’m fine,” a lie familiar to me from my own depression days. Unlike women, men are often socialized to value independence, dominance, stoicism, strength, self-reliance and control over their emotions, and many see weakness as shameful."
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