When we worry about postpartum depression, we tend to worry about mothers. But a new study suggests that at least eight percent of fathers face crippling depression postpartum — and some research suggests that figure may be as high as 27 percent. Many of the same factors that trigger postpartum depression in women are also risk factors in men, the researchers say, including exhaustion and financial difficulties. Meanwhile, depressed dads, the authors observe, tend to be less engaged parents. They spank their kids more often. They read to them less often.
The study adds to a growing body of research on postpartum depression and comes on the heels of recent work that found a link between depression and low testosterone levels in new dads. “We know men get postpartum depression, and we know testosterone drops in new dads, but we don’t know why,” coauthor on that study, Darby Saxbe of the University of Southern California, told The New York Times. “It’s often been suggested hormones underlie some of the postpartum depression in moms, but there’s been so much less attention paid to fathers.”
For the new study, scientists interviewed 447 new fathers and found that 27 percent reported depressive symptoms, including the desire to harm themselves. It is noteworthy that this figure probably higher than that of the general population because the men who volunteered to sit for these interviews likely did so because they suspected they might be depressed. Despite the large number of depressed dads, 83 percent said they had not told anyone about their feelings.
“Current statistics may not tell the whole truth when it comes to depression in new fathers,” said study coauthor Elia Psouni of Lund University in Sweden, in a statement. “Telling people you feel depressed is taboo; as a new parent, you are expected to be happy. On top of that, previous research has shown that men are often reluctant to seeking help for mental health issues.”
In light of these findings, Psouni, Saxbe, and others are calling upon public health officials to screen new dads for postpartum depression. But not all experts are convinced that dad’s baby blues constitute true postpartum depression. “There’s no question the perinatal time is one of the hardest for both men and women,” Samantha Meltzer-Brody, a professor of perinatal psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, told The Times. “But the process of birthing and the hormonal gymnastics that women experience is on a different planet.”
Meltzer-Brody hesitates to draw comparisons between the feelings that new moms experience after giving birth and the feelings of new dads. “I see them as utterly apples and oranges,” she said.