Postpartum depression affects both moms and dads

Posted Nov. 08, 2010, at 11:32 a.m.
Last modified Nov. 08, 2010, at 11:57 a.m.
Both men and women may experience depression after the birth of a baby.
Both men and women may experience depression after the birth of a baby.

Postpartum depression in women is becoming better recognized. The onset of symptoms of depression following the birth of a child has been acknowledged with popular terms such as “the baby blues.” Over the past decade, psychologists, physicians, and other healthcare professionals have increasingly identified postpartum depression as a significant health problem that impacts about 15 percent of new mothers. As with any major depression, effective and prompt treatment can reduce the severity of the depression and the length of time it endures.

But fathers also are at increased risk for depression after the arrival of a new baby. While research and public awareness about postpartum mental health problems in women needs to continue, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medial Association shows that fathers are also at significantly higher risk for depression than the general population of men. In the May, 2010 edition, researchers Dr. James Paulson and Sharnale Basemore reviewed nearly 50 studies involving over 28,000 participants. They found that while the general rate of depression among men in the United States in any one year is about 4.8 percent, the rate of depression among new fathers is about 10.4 percent. Fathers of newborns were most likely to develop depression three to six months after the birth of a child.

Are the symptoms of postpartum depression different than those of other types of depression? In general, the answer is, no. The specific manner in which depression impacts a mother or father following the birth of a child may be unique, but the symptoms are the same. The diagnosis of postpartum depression simply has to do with when the depression starts to occur.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling sad or hopeless most days for two consecutive weeks.
  • Lack of interest in most things — or in the case of postpartum depression, lack of interest in the baby.
  • Frequently feeling angry or irritable.
  • Crying spells.
  • Excessive feelings of guilt or hopelessness.
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or, in postpartum depression, thoughts of harming the baby.

What causes postpartum depression in women and men? Like most mental health problems, major depression is believed to be caused by a combination of biological, psychological and social factors. The exact combination of these probably differs from person to person. For some women, changes in hormone balances following childbirth are thought to contribute to depression. But, equally important are factors such as a previous history of depression, a family history of mood disorders, marital or financial stress, or having a baby with health problems.

The research in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a correlation between postpartum depression in women and men. That is, if one partner had depression, the other was more likely to also have depression. However, the question of what causes what is still unanswered. It may be that a third factor, such as marital or financial stress, may contribute to depression for both mothers and fathers.

Does treatment for other types of depression help with postpartum depression? Depression, in any form, usually improves when treated by a qualified mental health or medical professional. Treatments for postpartum depression include traditional therapies like cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy, interpersonal counseling, and medication. Increasing social support or encouraging better self-care (proper nutrition, help with child care, exercise) are also frequently very important.

Need More Information? Postpartum Support International: www.postpartum.net or 1-800-944-4PPD

American Psychological Association Help Center: www.apa.org/topics

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