Paternal Depression: Dads Can Get Depression Too

Most people have heard about postnatal depression, but did you know that Dad’s get depression too?  It’s called ‘paternal depression’ and it’s a common experience for men.

Up to 1 in 10 Dads will experience it either during the pregnancy or after baby arrives.

It’s important to recognise that feeling anxious, sad or overwhelmed at times is a common experience for Dads.  Adjusting to parenthood is one of the biggest transitions in life!  What’s different with paternal depression is that it is a kind of sadness that just doesn’t go away.  This can have an impact on Dad’s relationship with baby, and even baby’s development, so it’s important to find ways to help Dad through an experience like this.  The good news is that there are a range of different treatments and health professionals that can help.

What are some warning signs to look out for? 

It’s important that both partners understand and keep an eye out for any signs that Dad might be experiencing symptoms of depression.  These can include:

  • Feeling sad or miserable all of the time, on an ongoing basis (or possibly feeling numb and empty)
  • Becoming unusually irritable, or experiencing angry outbursts
  • Feeling guilty and blaming themselves for everything
  • Thinking about suicide
  • Becoming withdrawn and isolated
  • Not enjoying things like they used to
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Sleep problems (independent of baby’s sleep)
  • Some other behaviours that might indicate that Dad is struggling and needs help are:
  • Avoiding home life by working all the time
  • Increasing use of alcohol or other drugs
  • Engaging in risky behaviours such as having an affair

What can  partners/friends/family do to support Dad?

Fortunately, there is a lot that partners can do.  Try asking him about it.  Don’t try to fix anything, just listen and try to understand it from his perspective.  Your understanding of his experience can go a long way towards helping him feel more supported.  Express your appreciation for him as a partner, and as a Dad.  Ask him what he needs.  Provide him with information – share this article with him or show him some of the resources listed below.

Encourage him to share some of his difficulties with a trusted friend.  Encourage him to maintain some time for himself i.e., hobbies and spending time with friends - it is vitally important that he maintains his interests and social connections at this time.  Remind him that paternal depression is a common experience for men.  It is not a sign of weakness or evidence that he is failing as a Dad/partner.

Where to go for professional support:

There are many professional supports appropriate for men experiencing symptoms of depression.  He could try:

Talking to his GP – who can directly assist and also connect him to other resources

Talking to a psychologist – APS ‘Find a psychologist’ service 1800 333 497

GLOW Clinic supports fathers in Melbourne’s South East - 03 9769 5606

Joining a Dad’s group – to connect and get support from other Dads

PANDA have a web resource called How's Dad Going? and a helpline that specialises in mental and emotional challenges around parenting 1300 726 306

COPMI provides information support for families, including The Importance of Being a Dad, which is specifically designed for fathers in families where a parent has a mental illness.

MensLine Australia provides support and counselling - 1900 789 978

beyondblue provides a Dad's Handbook and offers telephone support 1300 224 636

It is important to remember that people experiencing depression can still be good parents.  But it’s also important to access support when it is called for.  Calling in some professional assistance can help ensure that Dad gets the best available support to assist him with his recovery.

About the Author:

Dr Anthony Mackie is a registered Clinical Psychologist and father specialist @ GLOW Clinic. Anthony has a strong interest in working with men and supporting them as they adjust to life’s challenges. He has a particular interest in the science of attachment and bonding, and how this can help build stronger and healthier relationships.

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