Did you know fathers can experience postnatal depression? Today we'll explore a lesser-known population who suffer from post-birth blues in the early days of parenting.
Meet Tom. Modern Aussie dad who confidently tackled the nappy aisle like a champ.
He attended parenting classes with his partner, watched all the YouTube videos, even mastered the art of swaddling. He felt pretty chuffed at his new title. He thought they had it all sorted.
Then, bub arrived.
After supporting his partner through the epic experience of birth; Tom found himself in a whirlwind of sleepless nights, nappy changes that felt more like a wrestling match, and a never-ending chorus of baby cries. It didn't take long for Tom to realise that despite all his preparation, he wasn't feeling the ecstatic joy he had expected.
In fact, he felt exhausted, overwhelmed, and, if he was being honest, really a bit... off. He missed his sleep and his pre-bub routine. His once-tidy living room had turned into a chaos of toys and baby gear.
Cue more serious fights with his partner, feeling numb, and withdrawing from friends and work. As the pressure increased, the more he wanted to withdraw into his own world, and at time even had fleeting thoughts of harm.
It reminded him of some bouts in his 20s where he thinks he might’ve suffered from depression.
Tom had a chat with his mate, Mike, who was a dad himself. And, much to Tom's surprise, Mike didn't just brush it off with "welcome to fatherhood, mate."
Instead, Mike shared his own experience dealing with something he hadn't anticipated - postnatal depression.
Yes, you read that right. Postnatal depression isn't just for mums.
Tom - grateful for the honesty, learned that many new dads face the same rollercoaster of emotions, and it's not just okay to talk about it - it was the only real way for him to feel some lasting relief from the overwhelm.
Therapy and counselling with understanding, highly-trained psychologists can make the difference between a devastating experience - and one where you get through with some beautiful memories.
Not that everything will be perfect and easy, but opening up to take care of emotional and mental health lays an invaluable foundation for the future of the family.
Prevalence and Underreporting
While postnatal depression in fathers is less commonly discussed, it's estimated that a decent percentage of new fathers experience symptoms of depression during the first year after their child's birth - perhaps up to 1 in 10.
But, like a lot of reporting on mental health issues - this number could be far higher in reality due to underreporting, stigma, and societal expectations.
What exactly are we talking about here?
The "DSM", or so-called 'bible' of psychiatry and psychology, gives clinical guidelines of diagnosing mental health conditions, including one of the most common conditions: depression.
But what about postpartum, postnatal, or perinatal depression? And how exactly does that apply to fathers?
Postpartum depression (PPD) is often described as a period of major depressive symptoms that occur shortly after a child's birth.
Although the criteria for diagnosing PPD in men aren't as well-established, similar symptoms can emerge over the course of the first year after childbirth. These symptoms include feeling low, anger, frustration, and emotional numbness.
And as for 'coping'? Unlike the stereotypical image of a teary-eyed, bed-bound mother, fathers dealing with postnatal depression might be more likely to show avoidant behaviour by working longer hours or spending excessive time on their phones.
They're also more likely to misuse substances, feel indecisive, irritable, and self-critical.
Risk factors for fathers
Just as with new mums, having experienced times in the past where your mental health has really 'taken a hit' - can leave you with a greater chance of experiencing clinical levels of postnatal depression.
Factors such as a history of depression, lack of social support, financial stress, relationship conflicts, and sleep disturbances can significantly increase the risk of postnatal depression in fathers.
Just like new mothers, new fathers also experience hormonal changes during their partner's pregnancy and after childbirth. Testosterone levels, for example, decrease in preparation for nurturing and bonding with the baby. Fluctuations in these hormones can contribute to mood changes, including symptoms of postnatal depression.
Cultural and Gender Differences
Different cultures and societies may influence how postnatal depression is perceived and experienced by fathers. In some cultures, discussing mental health concerns may be more stigmatised for men, leading to even lower rates of reporting and seeking help.
Impact on father-child bonding
Postnatal depression in fathers can impact their ability to bond with their newborns. A weakened bond during these critical early stages can affect the child's social, emotional, and cognitive development.
And I'm sure you're familiar with the insta-perfect family pics, and maybe feeling like the other dads you see at the park probably aren't struggling as much as you have.
Research suggests that untreated postnatal depression in fathers can have lasting effects, not only on the father's mental health but also on the child's behaviour, emotional well-being, and cognitive development.
While it can seem easier to ignore issues like these hoping they'll go away, addressing this issue early can prevent these potential long-term consequences.
Suffering in Silence
So we all know the stereotype of Provider. Maybe even if some say out loud that they're not concerned with 'image' - the culturally-ingrained feelings remain.
But - I hear you say... If I start talking about the struggle, does it just make it more real? Am I admitting defeat?
...Am I just not cut out for this?
One of the potential downsides of being the 'rock' of stability and support for a family is dads can feel no room to acknowledge feelings of distress, anxiety, or even failure.
Is anything actually going to help?
Luckily, decades and decades of amazing research in the field of psychology show that yes, reaching out for help can dramatically change the trajectory of your experience.
While some little ones might turn life upside down, it’s crucial as a community to open our eyes to the importance of supporting new fathers.
Addressing the unexpected challenges new parents face, and breaking the stigma around postnatal depression in dads can start with you.
Have you, or someone you know, been struggling more than feels normal through the early days of parenthood?
Know that you're not alone in the struggle. There are dedicated professionals here to help and support you through some of your roughest days.
If you're in need of emergency help, support is available at Lifeline on 13 11 14.