Michael W., a 38-year-old New Jersey–based attorney, and his wife had been excitedly planning for the birth of their baby and were overjoyed when she was born.
But after that, “I found that parenting a newborn was shockingly exhausting. I felt unprepared for the task, overwhelmed by the burden of the 24-hour-schedule and lack of sleep, and I struggled with feelings of inadequacy,” he said in an interview.
Michael never thought he had postpartum depression (PPD), perhaps because the condition is more commonly associated with women. But a study published in the American Journal of Men’s Health suggests that PPD also affects men.
A team of Danish investigators led by researcher Sarah Pedersen, of the department of public health, Aarhus University, extensively interviewed eight fathers with PPD and found their primary experiences involved feelings of being overwhelmed and powerless or inadequate, which sometimes turned into anger and frustration.
“I think one of the most important take-home messages is that practicing clinicians working with new parents should invite fathers to your consultations and engage the fathers as much as possible,” Ms. Pedersen said in an interview.
The findings also contained a message for parents, she says.
“I hope you will support each other and talk about your feelings and how you experience the transition to parenthood – know that it will take time to adjust to your new role,” she said.
Not enough attention
There’s been too little focus on fathers when it comes to PPD, according to Ms. Pedersen.
“During the last decade, several studies have examined the prevalence of PPD in men, and there is rising evidence that paternal PPD is associated with increased risk of long-term adverse behavioral and emotional outcomes in children,” she said.
Nevertheless, only three studies have been based on interviews with fathers who had personal experience with PPD.
“The purpose of our study was, first of all, to explore the lived experience of fathers who had PPD and, secondly, to gain deeper understanding of their help-seeking behavior – barriers to seeking help and facilitators of help-seeking,” Ms. Pedersen said.
The study was based on “semistructured” interviews with eight Danish fathers (ages 29-38 years) who had had PPD, none of whom had a previous history of depression.
All of them had received a formal diagnosis of PPD by a general practitioner or psychologist, and all had sought or received mental health care and considered themselves recovered from depression at the time of the interview.
The researchers used a technique called interpretative phenomenological analysis to analyze the interviews.
This method “aims to produce in-depth examinations of certain phenomena by examining how individuals make meaning of their own life experiences,” the authors wrote.