When we think about postpartum depression (PPD), we tend to focus on moms. After all, it’s been reported by the CDC that 1 in 8 women experience PPD symptoms. Although certain factors can be a trigger, such as a previous history of depression, postpartum depression can happen to any mom. By definition, it is considered to be a mood disorder that can include symptoms of prolonged sadness, mood swings, and exhaustion beyond sleep deprivation. With more moms having conversations about their experiences with PPD, not only has it become acknowledged, but more resources have also become available to help treat it.
Did you know that postpartum doulas are available to moms? Just like birthing doulas help guide moms and partners during the birthing process, postpartum doulas are trained to provide support by helping families adjust emotionally and physically once baby arrives. In addition, primary care physicians may suggest therapy and medication to help moms cope with PPD.
In terms of the postpartum stage, there are a number of adjustments to make that include sleepless nights and body changes that can affect a mom’s mental health. It’s so easy to become wrapped up in being a caretaker that moms forget about themselves and other areas of their lives, but taking care of yourself is important. Simultaneously, it’s equally important for partners to be aware of their well-being.
And for some partners, especially men, paternal postnatal depression (PPND) can show up in them as well. However, it is often left untreated or undiagnosed because it is not commonly talked about.
How Common Is PPND in Partners?
Just like moms can experience “baby blues”—a short-term dip in mood after baby—so can men. And according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, slightly more than 10% of new dads also become depressed before or after their baby’s birth.
What Causes PPND?
Being responsible for a young life can affect everyone differently, but the fact remains that it can involve a huge adjustment period for parents. According to a study by JAMA Psychiatry in 2017, men are more susceptible to depression if they felt stressed during their partners’ pregnancies. In addition, it was reported that men who already felt depressed before the arrival of the baby began exhibiting increased symptoms of depression.
What Are the Symptoms of PPND?
For partners, there are few ways that PPND can show up. Some of the symptoms include changes in weight and appetite, lack of interest in activities, feelings of worthlessness, anger and irritability, and more. Increased stress can exacerbate the way partners feel and, on an extreme level, can lead to moments where they lash out. But aggressive behavior or domestic violence is never OK.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, get help immediately. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers confidential help 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
How Can I Help If I Think My Partner Has PPND?
1. Be a Listening Ear
Sometimes, our partners may have trouble being vulnerable and naming what they are struggling with. They may not open up when we feel they should, and while this may be frustrating, we have to remember it’s not easy to struggle with depression. The key is to remember it’s not just about how we feel. Creating a space where our partners feel comfortable enough to express themselves, even if it feels “inconvenient,” is helpful.
2. Be Realistic About Your Partner’s Feelings
When something is wrong with our loved ones, we often try to fix or solve their problems. The thing about depression is that it is not up to us to eradicate it within someone else. In fact, being positive to the point where we are glossing over how our partners feel can make them feel worse. It’s OK to acknowledge they may feel detached, irritable, etc. When we are given the space to name our problems, we can feel less isolated.
3. Suggest Therapy and/or Lead by Example
This may be a little tricky given the stigma surrounding partners seeking help for their mental struggles. Our partners may not be receptive to seeking therapy at first, but encouraging them to seek help is one way to support their struggles. Also, by seeking help ourselves, we can show our partners that they do not have to be ashamed of struggling mentally or emotionally.
4. Encourage Self-Care
As easy as it can be for mothers to forget to take care of themselves during the postpartum phase, partners can forget too. By encouraging our partners to make positive diet changes, move their bodies, etc., we can encourage them to pour back into themselves in a healthy manner. It is easy to turn to risky behavior as a means of a quick fix, but helping partners choose healthy habits can help them develop a positive outlook on life.
Just as much as mothers deserve support, our partners deserve it as well. It’s never easy to deal with depression, especially as a parent, but it doesn’t mean anyone has to struggle alone.
If you or someone you know may be experiencing depression, it’s important to reach out and get help. See your doctor, get in contact with a therapist, and/or talk to a close friend or family member.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or actions, please get help immediately.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Crisis Textline: Text CONNECT to 741741