What’s up with new dads? Postnatal depression in men

For a long time, Post Natal Depression has more or less been recognised as a New Mum’s mental health illness. Over the last decade there has been a movement to recognise the vulnerability that New Dads experience during the transition from Husband/Partner to Father.

When it comes to the New Mum, it can be easily understood how PND and other perinatal mental health issues develop. Changes in the body, hormones, demands on the body, recovery from pregnancy and birth, sleeplessness, lack of support and isolation…the list goes on. When it comes to New Dads however, many of these reasons don’t apply (certainly the night time breastfeeding doesn’t count in their case) and it can be difficult to appreciate why a New Dad might develop a mental health illness. Some of the reasons are similar to those for women, however New Dads have some unique and confronting reasons that create this vulnerability in them. Three of the most important ones to be aware of are:

1) Increased pressure to provide for the family – Whilst the modern woman has her “modern woman’s mental load” to manage, many men report the intense pressure they feel to provide for their family. This creates anxiety about remaining employed, bringing in enough money for the family, sometimes compromising time with the family to complete work tasks/strive for promotions etc. New Dads report that when a child comes into the family, the responsibility they feel to provide, and the pressure associated with this, is amplified exponentially. This is also coupled with the desire to actually want to be around to support their wife and father their new baby. The Modern Dad tends to be highly driven to be PRESENT and ENGAGED with their children, and many men report feeling caught between a “rock and a hard place” when it comes to providing Vs parenting.

2) Perceived and real loss of their wife’s attention and affection – Let’s face it, those early months (and maybe years), babies and children take lots of the primary carer’s focus, that primary carer is usually (BUT not always) the Mum. Whilst the New Mum is all wrapped up in their new responsibilities, New Dad’s often report that they experience feeling grief associated with the change in the relationship and the change in their spouse’s priorities. “I feel forgotten” are common words these New Dad’s use to describe their experience. This often leads to a feeling of disconnection and isolation. Some New Dad’s even report feeling resentment towards the bond between their wife and child, which very often leads to feelings of guilt. All of these emotions and thoughts are precursors to developing very unhelpful thinking patterns, and consequently mental health illness.

3) Confusion about their role – So many of our New Dads are from a generation of men who were primarily raised by Mothers. This was the result of a huge increase in divorce rates and disparate custody arrangements over the past few decades. Many New Dad’s today report that they had very little time with their own father, had an absent dad, or had few father figure role models. This has meant they haven’t been exposed to appropriate modelling to prepare them for their role as a Father and as such feel confusion about how to “be a good dad”. This confusion often leads to extreme anxiety and disconnection, which ultimately affects New Dad’s mood and engagement with his family – a perpetuating and unhelpful cycle.

If you know of a New Dad who seems to be withdrawn, , anxious, or just generally not himself, please encourage him to discuss his thoughts and feelings with yourself, a trusted friend or a professional. Lots of Dads feel shame that they are thinking or feeling anything other than joy over the new bundle of love that has arrived in their life. But the simple fact of the matter is, transitions can be challenging for anyone and New Dads require as much care and concern as a New Mum does. In the end, supporting new parents can only lead to a more connected family unit and healthy, happy and integrated humans. That’s what we want for our children and the generations to come.

Yours in parenting,