I started this blog for the sole purpose of talking about my experience, as a dad, with postnatal depression. Ever since I went public with my experience I’ve had to answer the same question again and again: can men get postnatal depression? I’ll be honest, I never mind trying to answer that question. Postnatal depression is more commonly associated with women. It’s only natural that people ask whether it’s something men can get. So I thought I’d collect my thoughts on this issue and talk about why I think men can suffer from PND, and why others would say that they can’t.
Can Men Get Postnatal Depression?
Before I start, I will say that I don’t think people are questioning whether dads are suffering or not. That’s not up for dispute. I think they’re just questioning whether they can use the term postnatal depression or not. If you’re reading this as a man thinking that you might have postnatal depression, then feel free to skip to the bottom of this post where there is a list of symptoms and also possible places you can get in touch with.
Postnatal Means ‘After Birth’ – Men Don’t Give Birth, Therefore They Can’t Suffer from Postnatal Depression
This is usually one of the first reasons people give for men not being able to suffer from postnatal depression. But language is often down to interpretation. If you take the Oxford dictionary definition, then ‘postnatal’ simply means “Relating to or denoting the period after childbirth.”
One could argue that ‘childbirth’ refers to the process of actually going through childbirth – which is fair enough. Or the phrase could simply mean anything that occurs in the period after the birth has taken place. Therefore it isn’t exclusive to the person who physically birthed the child.
Of course I completely see people’s point when it comes to this. If the dad needed some sort of care after the birth of a child you wouldn’t call that postnatal care just because he’s recently had a baby. So why call depression immediately after the birth postnatal depression?
Some people even assign the label postnatal depression to adoptive parents. Obviously they haven’t given birth, so should that label really be given? You could argue that it shouldn’t. Although some have coined the term post-adoptive depression. Would anyone really be offended if an adoptive mother used the term postnatal depression? Probably not.
For me though, I just interpret the term postnatal depression to mean “depression brought on due to the birth of a child.” But that’s not the only reason that people give as to why men can’t suffer from postnatal depression.
What About Hormones: Are They the Cause of Postnatal Depression?
The next reason people often jump to is that men can’t suffer from postnatal depression because of one simple fact: hormones.
If someone wants to say that postnatal depression is a condition brought on PURELY by the hormonal shift in a woman’s body due to the birth, then of course, by that definition men can’t get it. Or can they? There has been some limited research in recent years that showed that men did experience a hormonal shift during the latter stage of pregnancy. Hormones like testosterone and estradiol drop in the lead up to the birth. Some believe that lower levels of testosterone in men can then lead to depression. So perhaps postnatal depression in men is due to a hormonal change in a similar way it is for women. Who would’ve thought?
Research has even shown that putting men on testosterone replacement therapy has shown a reduction in depressive symptoms. Although that wasn’t in cases of postnatal depression.
I think more conclusive and valid research needs to be carried out in regards to men in the postnatal period. Especially in regards to hormones. But at least research does indicate a change for expectant fathers, and how that change may lead to depression.
Do all women who experience postnatal depression actually have a hormonal shift that causes it?
If postnatal depression is caused ONLY by the hormonal shift then how do women experience it up to 12 months after the birth? By this time hormones levels would have returned to normal and would have no affect on depressive symptoms. Also, do all women experience the same drop in their hormones, and if they do why don’t more women suffer from postnatal depression immediately after the birth?
Perhaps this is a case where hormonal imbalance is a contributing factor, but not the only cause.
On another note, if it is a simple case of a hormonal imbalance that creates postnatal depression, then why do women receive counselling as part of their possible treatment? If it was purely down to the hormonal shift that a woman goes through then a simple course of meditation would eradicate postnatal depression altogether. But we all know it’s not that simple.
Obviously there are many women who quickly develop postnatal depression as a result of the drop in hormones immediately after the birth. Research does show that women with lower levels of oxytocin – the love hormone – are more likely to experience postnatal depression. But I don’t believe every woman who experiences postnatal depression does so as a result of her hormones.
This initial fluctuation and imbalance in a woman’s hormones is likely what causes the baby blues. Perhaps dads too get this in some form. It’s only when other factors come into play where postnatal depression will form.
If someone is willing to accept that mothers can develop postnatal depression without the affect of the hormones, and if the hormonal argument is their main reason for why men can’t suffer from postnatal depression, then there’s some clear hypocrisy in their argument.
Postnatal Depression is Caused by Far More Than Just Hormones
Postnatal depression is far too complicated to be reduced down to one simple argument of hormones.
There are a lot more factors that come into play to determine whether someone will suffer from PND or not. Having a history of mental health problems, experiencing a traumatic birth, having a poor relationship with a partner, a lack of support, other stressful life events and even something like poor diet. All of these can build to a point where postnatal depression occurs. And all of those things are something that a dad can go through too. And yes, even a traumatic birth.
Adjustment Disorder or Postnatal Depression?
Another arguments against men suffering from postnatal depression comes in the form of adjustment disorder. There’s a part of me that has absolutely no problem with postnatal depression in men being labelled as adjustment disorder. Perhaps that’s just what it is. Having a baby is a HUGE life event that can easily bring about anxiety, stress, fear and all sorts of other emotions that can eventually lead to depression.
My main issue with this comes from the fact that people don’t feel the need to label mothers with adjustment disorder, so why do it with men? A mother who is 9 months postpartum would still be assessed as suffering from postnatal depression. Even if her hormones have returned to normal. But no one would have an issue with that label. Yet if a man claims he is suffering from postnatal depression within weeks of the birth some people would argue he has no right to call it postnatal depression.
But to me, postnatal depression is vastly different to adjustment disorder. It’s even different form depression in general. And a lot of that has to do with the fact there’s a baby involved.
What’s the Difference Between Depression and Postnatal Depression?
I’ve had depression on and off since I was 17 years old. So speaking from my own personal experience, which is all I can do, I can tell you that regular depression is a lot different to postnatal depression.
Regular depression had me hating myself, and gave me a nihilistic view of life. It left me thinking that everything we do in our life is utterly pointless and there’s a bleak, impending doom that surrounds me. Postnatal depression on the other hand, had me hating my own baby. It was based entirely around the bond between myself and my daughter. It wasn’t self loathing, I didn’t have a nihilistic outlook on life, I just hated the fact I was now a father and I wished that I wasn’t.
Those are two vastly different mindsets.
I didn’t like the fact I had this new responsibility, I regretted having my daughter and everything was seemingly brought on by her arrival. Of course, since recovering from postnatal depression I’ve learned a lot about what I was actually thinking around that time. But suffice to say, that when I have depressive feelings come around now, they don’t change the way I look at my daughter. It’s a vastly different experience to postnatal depression, and that’s why when people ask “can men get postnatal depression?” I believe that they can.
Everyone Has a Different Experience with Depression
Everything I just said was personal to my experience. Not everyone will have the same take. Others might have the exact same symptoms with postnatal depression as someone else would with regular depression. But this is my take on it.
Other people’s experience could be vastly different to that of mine. Some people are filled with anger and a hatred for others; whilst others simply hate themselves. Some people struggle to get out of bed and perform the basics like shower and eat; others are rather functional but still struggle mentally. And whilst someone like myself might struggle to bond with their baby, others might over attach themselves and have intrusive thoughts about the baby dying. We are all different in how we experience depression.
But the fact remain that postnatal depression is something that is brought on in some form by the experience of becoming a parent.
Never Mind My Opinions, What do the Professionals Say?
The jury is still out on a consensus opinion on whether men can or can’t be labelled as suffering from postnatal depression. Even the NHS indicate in their myths surrounding PND that it doesn’t just affect mothers, but they refrain from using the actual term postnatal depression and say “Research has actually found that up to 1 in 10 new fathers become depressed after having a baby.”
The DSM-V doesn’t recognise postnatal depression as something that fathers can suffer from, and nor does the NICE guidelines say they can either. This is why the mental health charity Mind don’t use the term postnatal depression when talking about men. I even wrote for Mind and had to just go with ‘Depression as a new dad’ as opposed to using the term postnatal depression.
Then you have the NCT who do use the term postnatal depression in fathers, and of course the majority of media outlets use the term postnatal depression in fathers. Although media outlets might be using it just to help drive traffic to their articles. I’ve seen from first hand experience that people are quick to turn a male postnatal depression story into a debate over the question can men get postnatal depression?
Ultimately, does it actually matter? Depression in Fathers is exactly the same as Postnatal depression in Fathers – the crux of the story is still the same. Dads suffer too. So it really doesn’t matter what term you use as the key point remains the same. If anything, using the term postnatal depression only makes things worse as people get caught up on terminology rather than the issue at hand. But to me, the label does matter somewhat.
Does the Label ‘Postnatal Depression’ Even Matter?
At the end of the day, as long as a man is actually treated for having depression, it doesn’t make any difference what the prefix is that you use.
Call it adjustment disorder, postnatal depression, situational depression, sad dad syndrome, daddy blues or just regular depression. I’ve said in the past that depression is depression. I didn’t even care when I personally went to the doctor what she called it. I knew it was depression. And I knew I needed help and that’s all I cared about.
But to me it does matter somewhat. It matters because of the men who don’t know anything about depression and turn to Google when they feel the symptoms. What happens when they type in their symptoms or just go with “depressed after having a baby” and all that comes back are results related to the mother?
Not only that, but it’s about having it in place so health professionals actively check how the fathers are doing too. If postnatal depression is recognised on a medical level as something that man suffer from, then perhaps more would be done to prevent them from suffering from it in the first place.
At the end of the day, Dad’s Still Suffer, and That’s the Part People Need to Realise
I appreciate that when it comes to this issue I’m almost a hypocrite. On the on hand I’m arguing that depression is depression, and as such it doesn’t matter what prefix you put with it. But on the other hand I want men to be seen as being able to suffer from PND too.
The main point in all of this is that dads still suffer. Research from Sweden showed that out of the 447 fathers who took part in the study, 28% of them had symptoms above mild levels of depression. Other research simply goes with the figure of 10% of dads suffer. Does it really matter whether that’s postnatal depression, adjustment disorder, or just classed as depression? The point is that they’re suffering.
I just don’t want dads to be left out of the conversation. I’ve even talked before about the NHS plans and their investment in perinatal mental health, but the fact that they didn’t mention anything about dads. I don’t actually care that much about the label you assign to depression. I care about the help that someone gets. I care about someone thinking that they can seek help. If having this label helps dads to get the help they deserve then I want it.
If you feel like you might be suffering from postnatal depression please seek help
The main thing is, if you feel like you are suffering from postnatal depression then please talk to someone or do something. I have a toolkit that I made to try and talk about all the ways that helped me through it. But there are others out there who can do a lot more than a few suggestions on a blog post. Feel free to get in touch with any of these:
- Association for Post Natal Illness (APNI) – helpline on 0207 386 0868 (10am to 2pm, Monday to Friday) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support (PANDAS) – helpline on 0843 28 98 401 (9am to 8pm, Monday to Sunday)
- National Childbirth Trust (NCT) – helpline on 0300 330 0700 (8am to Midnight, Monday to Sunday)
- Mind, the mental health charity – who actually don’t count postnatal depression as something men can suffer from – infoline on 0300 123 3393 (9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday) or email email@example.com
- There’s also a weekly Twitter Chat run by Rosey of PND and Me every Wednesday at 8pm
If you disagree or can think of something I have missed, then get in touch
Thank you for reading this.
If you happen to be someone who thinks that men can’t suffer from postnatal depression, then please get in touch. If I’ve missed something then please let me know. I would be more than happy to hear your argument on this and perhaps use it to add to this post. I am always happy having my ideas challenged, and perhaps you know something that I don’t that might change my mind.