Yes, dads can get postnatal depression too

Postnatal depression in women is often spoken about in moms’ circles, but did you know this mental health condition can affect new dads too? We asked an expert to tell us more… By Tammy Jacks


It’s been proven that many women experience postnatal depression, or perinatal distress (which also refers to a combination of depression and anxiety), during the postnatal period – which extends from childbirth up until about 12 months. But recently, an increasing amount of studies are pointing to the fact that new dads can experience sadness too.

ALSO SEE: Postnatal depression – know the signs

Factors that affect new dads

In a recent study on more than 500 men, published in the American Journal of Men’s Health, researchers found that about 13% of expectant fathers had elevated levels of stress and depressive symptoms, such as poor sleep quality and marital dissatisfaction, as early as during their partner’s third trimester of pregnancy. The authors concluded that strategies to promote better sleep, manage stress and lean on the extended community for support may help to address this growing problem among new dads in the transition to parenthood.

A shift in parenting roles

One of the main reasons why postnatal depression is more widely recognised among men today is because of the recent ever-changing roles of new parents, explains Cape-Town based psychiatrist Dr Bavi Vythilingum, who has a special interest in working with moms and dads suffering from perinatal distress. “Fathers are doing things differently to the way their fathers did, and are having to juggle many different roles and responsibilities,” she says. For many dads, the unknown realms of parenthood, coupled with financial demands and a greater sense of responsibility towards their family, can be nerve-wracking and stressful with many men having difficulty adjusting to their new role.

Sleep disturbances

Another study published in the Annals of Behavioural Medicine shows that the general lack of sleep most parents face with a newborn is one of the biggest contributing factors to postnatal depression in men. The findings suggest that “sleep difficulties may contribute to a vicious cycle between sleep and the persistence of depression after the birth of a child. Sleep problems may also contribute to the transmission of depression within a couple.”

Risk factors

Some men are more prone to postnatal depression than others, says Dr Vythilingum. Here’s a few risk factors to watch out for:

  • A history of depression, anxiety or any other mental illness
  • A partner with postnatal depression
  • Substance use
  • Previous relationship problems or marital issues
  • Financial problems in the family
  • Baby health problems
  • First-time parenthood.

ALSO SEE: Should dads be in the delivery room during birth?

If you already suspect that your partner could be suffering from postnatal depression, take note of these signs he may be exhibiting:  

  • A constant depressed mood
  • A general loss of interest and pleasure in things he previously enjoyed
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • An increased sense of anxiety about everything from the baby’s wellbeing to financial pressures
  • A heightened sense of irritability and/or anger
  • An increased use of alcohol, smoking, and/or recreational or over-the-counter drugs.

Treatment options

Because postnatal depression is a serious mental health condition that shouldn’t be taken lightly (in either parent), anyone going through it should seek professional help, advises Dr Vythilingum. It’s also within the best interest of the child if parents are treated for mental health problems, as recent studies have also linked both moms’ and dads’ depression with troubling behaviours in children, especially toddlers.

A proper treatment protocol will be put in place, which could include specific medicines, plus psychotherapy and/or marriage counselling, explains Dr Vythilingum.

The first step is to recognise that there’s a problem and seek help immediately. For help and support, contact the South African Depression And Anxiety Group here.

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