“I wish my husband understood that I’m not just trying to get out of Motherhood.”
“How can I admit to struggling when he seems so happy? I’d hate to rain on his parade.”
“He doesn’t believe in mental illness. Neither does his family. So I fake it.”
“I can’t take medication. He won’t let me.”
“My wife won’t admit she is struggling. What can I do?”
“Everything I do is wrong. I’m scared I’ll lose my wife and my child.”
“She’s awesome with the baby. Me? I suck. I’m failing at fatherhood.”
“I’m the Dad. I have to be the rock. I can’t be depressed.”
“I drink/do drugs to hide/numb just how bad I’m feeling from her.”
Every single one of these statements are real things parents who have reached out to me have expressed. These statements are extremely telling. What do they tell, you ask? They tell just how much communication has broken down within the relationship. The breakdown may have occurred before baby. Or it may be a new thing. Until now, everything within their relationship may have been picture perfect. They were the perfect couple. Never had to work hard at their relationship. They may have been “THAT” couple. But now that everything is dashed to hell, smashed to pieces by an innocent new life, their relationship struggles to stay afloat. Everything they thought they knew about each other is also up in the air. They wait with bated breath for it all to crash back down, hopefully back into the right place.
We did just that six years ago.
Things are still falling back into place.
We met at work. Yes, we were like Pam & Jim. We met the weekend after Thanksgiving in 2000 after our Supervisors relocated us to adjoining cubicles. Our first date? A flirtatious invite to a non-existent steak dinner as I bragged to him about my evening. I dashed like a mad woman to the grocery store to turn this imaginary meal into a reality. We’ve been inseparable ever since. In 2002, we got married.
In 2003, we got pregnant.
In 2004, we officially became parents and I went off the deep end.
Suddenly he couldn’t do anything right. I knew everything, he knew nothing. I snapped at him because, well, I could. He got frustrated. We stopped talking. If he did talk or get upset about something, it was automatically my fault. My self-esteem took a nose-dive. I did not think I was verbally abusive, irritable, angry, or crazy. Turns out I was. This continued well into my second pregnancy.
Then our second daughter was born. She spent time in the NICU. I was hospitalized 56 days postpartum after a near-psychotic break. Think we weren’t communicating before? Now we really weren’t on the same page. He had been medicating with marijuana along with the same anti-depressant I ended up on after my hospitalization. We yelled. We screamed, we fought, I cried, I begged him to tell me he wasn’t okay about all of this – that he was hurting too. He lied and said he was fine because that’s what he thought he was supposed to do – he was the man. The rock. He was supposed to be okay.
Turns out he wasn’t okay after all.
After the birth of our third child, I was involved in a car accident at just 3 months postpartum. I went to jail. Why? Because my husband had been spending money on marijuana instead of on important things like vehicle registration and car insurance. Again, failure to communicate.
He’ll be 3 years into recovery this coming March. So will I. Wait – did you say – I did. I’m no longer a co-dependent. I’m no longer enabling his habit. Believe me, you didn’t want to be in this house the day after my accident. It was not pretty.
Our fallout from PMAD’s and Paternal Postnatal Depression took nearly four years to explode. It’s taken close to seven years to claw our way back to where we are now – a place very closely resembling normal and healthy. Even here though we have our issues. I suspect we always will. To assume perfection is to ignore the flaws in front of you. Flaws are not always a bad thing. Sometimes they are just what we need to learn and move forward.
We have mistakes in our past. We have learned from them. Moved on. Trusting in God and His enduring support as we grow to trust in Him for everything. Our journey has been full of hell. But it’s also been obviously filled with grace and tenacity. On our part and on God’s part.
There are times within the past almost seven years at which I could have walked away and no one would have faulted me. I chose to stay and fight. Certainly not the easiest path but definitely the right path – especially as I sit here in the glow of a Christmas tree, a fireplace, and my husband beside me.
For us, our brush with Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders ripped the band-aids off situations we may not have otherwise faced head-on. We were thrust headlong into trauma, grief, mental illness, and forced to decide how to move forward. I am thankful we clung to each other and made the decision to move forward together. I know many other couples who are not as fortunate for whatever reason. Each situation, each person, each Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder is different. Therefore, the results will be assuredly different as well.
What challenges have you faced as part of your PMAD? Has your husband axed certain avenues of treatment? Has that affected your recovery? Your marriage? Did your PMAD ultimately lead to divorce? Or is your marriage stronger as a result of coming through the fiery storm that is a PMAD?
Let’s get to just talking about Husbands, Wives, and Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders. Oh My.
Oh how it royally bites to be sick on a holiday. Especially when you’re the one cooking THE MEAL and it’s your first time at the helm for such a big event. I somehow managed to hold it all together and pulled off an awesome Christmas Lunch of (get this) Roast Beef Tenderloin with Beef Mushroom Sauce, Carrot Souffle, Green Bean Bundles, Creamed Corn, and Yorkshire Pudding. I baked a Scripture Cake the night before in honor of the man of the day, Jesus.
Yet once I stopped moving frantically about in the kitchen and sat down, my body realized the rush was over and apparently gave itself permission to implode.
My left hip? Out of alignment for the better part of the afternoon and evening. Only heat and a whopping dose of Tylenol and Ibuprofen cleared that up. And thank goodness it did because I was unable to bear weight on my left side without almost collapsing and crying outloud.
My head and chest? Obscenely Congested. Tylenol Cold did nothing for me. Ended up making a Walgreens run at 10p last night for myself and for Cameron. I got Severe Cold Meds and Nasal Spray. He got a little Flowing Vapors desk thingy by Triaminic. (Have I mentioned Charlotte’s sick too?)
All of this started last Friday when Alli was coughing slightly. The cough got worse and by Sunday evening I was at the ER with her. First thing I did when we got ushered back to a room? Turned on the NY Giants game! (Thank GOD they won!) She had to get a strep swab, flu swab (which is a nasal swab and not an easy thing to watch), take some ibuprofen and tylenol, get some chest x-rays, get said x-rays done again, and finally ended up with a diagnosis of Possible Pneumonia. She was given antibiotics there and we were sent home with a prescription. Half an hour after she took the antibiotics she threw up. Repeated this again in the morning when we tried to give Motrin. Off to the ped’s office with a feverish uncooperative toddler in tow.
Much of this past week has been spent in a headlock with Alli to get her to take her meds and trying to conserve the tissue use because her nose has been running a freakishly long marathon. We’re all coughing (except for Chris) and today has found me in bed for the better part of it – I’ve been awake a couple of times but not very long. I’m due to take some more medicine here shortly (I think – how bad is that!) and am ready to crawl back into bed and rest. I just can’t take being awake anymore. My head is pouding, my voice has apparently bought the last ticket to Clarksville, and this cough and congestion is driving me insane.
And for the record, Chris has been absolutely awesome today. He’s really taken the reigns and let me pass out. I can’t even begin to express how much that has meant to me!
So forgive me if I haven’t posted much the past week or don’t post much for the next few days. I’m taking my own advice and doing some much needed self-care.
Ok, ok, so in the interest of full disclosure, I am co-partner in this project. Go check it out already!
New Support Site for Postpartum Dads Launches just in time for the Holidays
The Postpartum Dads Project plans to focus on collecting stories from Dads who have experienced depression themselves or have been with a partner who has experienced a Mood disorder after the birth of a child.
December 5, 2008 – With the goal of getting new Dads to open up about the havoc Postpartum Depression can wreak, the Postpartum Dads Project launches today. The project will also focus on developing a close knit community which would provide Dads a safe haven in which to connect with other fathers with similar experiences.
The project is an outcome of a partnership between Lauren Hale and David Klinker, both Coordinators with Postpartum Support International. Ms. Hale serves as the Co-Coordinator for the state of Georgia while Mr. Klinker serves as the Father’s Coordinator. In June, Ms. Hale featured interviews with Dads and their experiences with Postpartum Depression. Mr. Klinker was one of the Dads featured and this led to further discussion regarding the lack of resources available for Dads.
The Postpartum Dads Project will also be placing emphasis on Paternal Postnatal Depression. This can occur in up to 10% of all new dads. In fact, if a father’s partner is depressed, the father has a fifty percent chance of developing depression himself.
One of the primary goals of the Postpartum Dads Project will be to create a published volume that will include submissions collected through the website. These submissions will be categorized and designed to be read in between calming a fussy baby and watching the game. The development of the website will continue and many of the stories will be found there as well as insights from professionals, tips and hints from other dads who have been in the trenches, as well as the eventual addition of a Dads only forum.
A key addition to the website in the future will be a professionals only area in which professionals will have their own forum and other tools with which to discuss this relatively new area of support.
The Postpartum Project will begin by publishing interviews with Dads and professionals in the know such as Country Music Artist Wade Bowen, Michael Lurie, David Klinker, Dr. William Courtenay and has been granted permission to reprint the interview with Dr. Shoshanna Bennett’s husband, Henry. The Project will also be featured in an upcoming segment at The FatherLife.com.
For additional information on the Postpartum Dads Project, contact email@example.com or visit the website at www.postpartumdadsproject.org.
About the Postpartum Dads Project
Lauren Hale and David Klinker are both volunteers with Postpartum Support International. Lauren is very active in Postpartum Peer Support and moderates the iVillage Postpartum Depression Board, runs a local peer support group, writes Unexpected Blessing, a blog dedicated to pregnancy after PPD, and is a stay at home mom of three children. David is the Father’s Coordinator for Postpartum Support International and also runs www.postpartumdads.org. He is strongly dedicated to supporting Fathers throughout the Postpartum Period.
Lauren Hale, Co-Founder
The Postpartum Dads Project
I first saw Michael Lurie on a Fox Morning program and immediately thought how wonderful it was for him to be sharing his story as it is very rare indeed to get a glimpse into the postpartum experience from a father’s perspective. In his book, My Journey to Her World: How I Coped with My Wife’s Postnatal Depression, Michael is transparently open and honest with the events as they unfolded. Familiar with his wife’s previous depressive episodes, her postnatal experience and his subsequent depression went well beyond anything either of them could have ever fathomed. I am honored to share his words with you here and sincerely hope that you will share them with the men in your lives. Michael has been extremely gracious and kind (we’ve had technical difficulties in pulling this together – our emails weren’t the greatest of playmates!) in completing this and I thank him for his patience. I also thank him for his bravery in forging such a valuable addition to resources available for fathers with partners suffering from postpartum depression.
Click here to purchase your own copy of My Journey to Her World
How hard was it for you to witness your wife’s struggle with Postpartum Depression? What were some of the emotions you went through?
Very difficult to heartbreaking. Some emotions I went through were:
Helplessness- not being able to make things better quickly
Disbelief- I couldn’t believe things hag gotten so bad
Anger- Angry with G-d for Kate’s illness. Anger at family and friends who I felt did not fully understand the severity of the situation
Fear- that Kate may harm herself and the baby
At what point did you decide to write your book, My Journey to Her World?
Following several months of watching Kate deteriorate, I started brainstorming my thoughts on a piece of paper t try and get some cathartic release. A I wrote down my thoughts, I realized that this was a story that needed to be told to others in order to help others and avoid the frustration I felt at not having a resource spec ifically aimed for men.
Has becoming a Father changed you?
It has given me a sense of unconditional responsibility and love to my children which will last the rest of my life.
What aspect of being a Father is the most challenging? The Least?
Most challenging- the constant feeling of responsibility for another human being who is totally dependent on you.
Least challenging- the ability to unconditionally love your child.
How difficult was it to accept your own experience with depression during this time? Do you feel it brought you closer to your wife and allowed you to better understand her?
It was very difficult to accept my position and I need it confirmed by a third party (doctor) before acknowledging it. It did bring me closer to my wife as I got a small ‘taste’ of what a sufferer of depression goes through.
What are some things you did to actively support your wife during her episode of Postpartum Depression?
I ensured that she was functional even at her worst point and asked her to do even the smallest of chores- e.g. help m e fold the laundry.
I acknowledged her feelings and let her release emotions without questioning whether they were rational or not.
I ensured that on a practical level, there was nothing to worry about
I respected her need at times to be alone
I made her feel 100% comfortable to tell me how she was feeling at any time of day or night
Just as women with PPD learn that taking care of themselves is important, this is a lesson that Fathers should heed as well. What do you do on a regular basis to feed your soul and ensure that you stay in a good place?
Nurture and develop your hobbies and interests. Remember that you are first and foremost an individual who needs to look after them self in order to look after others.
Did PPD strengthen or weaken your marriage? Do you feel that you both are in a better place now than prior to PPD?
It strengthened it as it made us more committed to one another.
It made me appreciate my wife more for overcoming it and being such a fantastic mother
I would not say we are in a better place now as we were in a good place beforehand. I would say we are in a different place now as we have the realization and experience of PPD and its devastating effects.
What do you find to be the best part of being a Father?
The privilege of providing love and care for a child and seeing them develop into fulfilled and content people
If there was one piece of advice you could give to an expectant father (new or experienced), what would it be and why would this be important for him to hear?
Talk to people and if there is a problem – seek help. Don’t suffer alone.
Today we are continuing with our focus on Dads and we will be reading up on a condition that is just starting to gain recognition – Paternal Postnatal Depression or PPND for those of you who love acronyms.
Dr. Will Courtenay has been working in the field of Men’s Health for quite some time and is internationally recognized for his achievements in his field. According to his bio at Postpartum Men, Dr. Courtenay received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. He is a member of the visiting clinical faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and has formerly served on the clinical faculty of the University of California, San Francisco, Medical School. Dr. Courtenay also serves as a Coordinator with Postpartum Support International.
In addition to his psychotherapy practice, Dr. Courtenay has spent the last 15 years researching and writing about men’s physical and mental health concerns, and effective strategies for helping men. His work is referenced by researchers throughout the world and has been translated into many languages. Currently, the focus of his research and writing is men’s experiences after the birth of a child – and effective strategies for helping men with postpartum depression.
I am excited to be able to share this interview with you and hope you leave enlightened and open to th very real condition that affects new fathers.
Thank you Dr. Courtenay for your hard work in this area and I also thank you for the time you put into this interview. I know it continue to shed light on a topic that has been in the dark far too long.
What led you to become a Psychotherapist specializing in men’s issues?
Wow! That question takes me back to being a teenager in the late 70s! That was when the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, or CETA, was enacted. My first social work job was being a CETA worker in San Francisco. I helped teenaged boys – mostly runaways, who were living on the streets of the inner city – to find jobs and housing. After that, I worked in a variety of jobs helping men as a social worker while I continued my education.
After I began my psychotherapy practice, and while I was working on my PhD at the University of California at Berkeley, I became very curious about the silence surrounding men’s issues. No one was talking about them – not doctors, not mental health providers, not the media, and certainly not men themselves. I was shocked to learn, for example, that men were dying nearly eight years younger than women, and yet there was no discussion about it. Most people – including doctors – were not even aware of this fact. And men’s mental health wasn’t any better. Men were killing themselves at rates up to 12 times higher than women were. But again, there was a deafening silence.
So, about 15 years ago, I founded Men’s Health Consulting (www.MensHealth.org). An educational and consulting firm focused on educating health professionals and the public about the health of men and boys, and how to best provide health services to men. That was long before most people had heard of Men’s Health Magazine. Finally, things have changed and men’s health is getting more of the attention it deserves. But now, men’s postpartum depression is where men’s health was 15 years ago – completely in the dark.
The focus of my work as a researcher and social scientist is masculinity. What I discovered is, men’s attitudes about manhood have a direct influence on men’s health and well-being. Take for example, the fact that many men were taught as boys to never cry – and that they were often punished when they did. So, it’s no surprise research shows that men are more likely than women to try to hide their depression – which only worsens the depression. Men are also taught to be tough, self-reliant and never ask for help. This then makes it difficult for men to get the support and professional help they need to recover from depression – and can lead to feelings of shame or embarrassment when they do.
It really pains me to see so many men suffering alone, and in silence. Especially since depression, anxiety and the other emotional problems that affect us are effectively treatable. So, helping men to lead the most fulfilling lives they can – primarily through raising public awareness and through my psychotherapy practice in Berkeley, California – remains a lifelong passion.
When did you first begin to see an increase in men experiencing Paternal Postnatal Depression?
Well – to be honest – what first springs to mind when I hear that question is a really bad analogy: buying a car and suddenly noticing how many of the same cars there are on the road. But the fact is, until you recognize that this problem of postpartum depression in men exists, you don’t see it. Once you know about it, you start to see just how common it is.
The fact is, we don’t know if there actually is “an increase” in Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND). It’s only relatively recently that the problem has been identified. That doesn’t mean it’s new, it just means we hadn’t identified it before. There probably have always been men who’ve experienced postpartum depression.
Part of what drew my attention to the problem, was becoming a father myself and starting to think more about the experiences of men as fathers. At the same time, I had been watching many of male patients becoming fathers. In fact, it was actually in my clinical practice – working with men who became fathers for the first time – when I first saw men experiencing depression after their babies were born. That’s when I started researching the subject.
What is the occurrence rate for PPND and what are some of the risk factors for developing PPND?
Well, the occurrence rate is surprisingly high. Every day, more than 1,000 men in the United States become depressed after the birth of their children. And according to some studies, that number is as high as 3,000. That’s means that as many as 1 in 4 new dads experience PPND.
The “risk factors” for PPND are basically those things that we believe might cause PPND (see below). Men who are concerned about developing PPND – or concerned about already having PPND – should look over the list of possible causes to see whether they might be at risk.
Would you describe some of the classic symptoms of PPND? What symptoms would warrant a psychiatric emergency?
It’s a great question – and certainly a reasonable one. But it opens a whole can of worms.
“Classic” is probably not the best term to use in this case. PPND is a relatively newly recognized problem. Now that doesn’t mean that fathers haven’t always experienced this problem, it just means we’re only beginning to learn about it. So, because of that, we don’t really know what the “classic symptoms” are. The same is true of men’s depression, in general. What we’ve long thought of as classic symptoms of depression, may have blinded us to the actual symptoms that men experience.
When we think of a depressed person, we usually picture someone who’s sad and crying. But picture instead a guy who’s working 60 hours a week, being a little short-tempered, drinking a couple of martinis at lunch, slipping out of the office to have an affair, and then speeding home to his wife in the evening. Now that’s not who we think of when we think of someone who’s depressed, but these are some of the symptoms of men’s depression – which often looks different than women’s depression. This is part of what makes it easy to overlook men’s depression.
Here are some symptoms of men’s depression or PPND:
§ Increased anger and conflict with others
§ Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
§ Frustration or irritability
§ Violent behavior
§ Losing weight without trying
§ Isolation from family and friends
§ Being easily stressed
§ Impulsiveness and taking risks, like reckless driving and extramarital sex
§ Feeling discouraged
§ Increases in complaints about physical problems
§ Ongoing physical symptoms, like headaches, digestion problems or pain
§ Problems with concentration and motivation
§ Working constantly
§ Frustration or irritability
§ Misuse of prescription medication
§ Increased concerns about productivity and functioning at school or work
§ Experiencing conflict between how you think you should be as a man and how you actually are
A man who’s depressed won’t experience all these symptoms. Some men experience only a few of them, while others experience many. And how bad these symptoms get also varies among men – and over time.
Now, that said, it’s important to point out that men with PPND can also experience “classic” symptoms of depression – such as a sad mood, loss of interest in hobbies or sex, a change in appetite, a sense of worthlessness, poor concentration, and thoughts of suicide. Certainly if a man is thinking about suicide, that would qualify as a psychiatric emergency. We have to remember that men commit suicide anywhere from 4 to 12 times more often than women do. Each day, 75 men in the United States take their own lives. So, any thoughts of suicide in men need to be taken very seriously.
As you can probably tell from this description, PPND is different from the “Daddy Blues” – which many new dads can experience. With normal postpartum stress or the Daddy Blues, a guy’s going to feel better when he gets a little extra sleep, when he goes to the gym, or when he has lunch with a buddy. But with depression, these things won’t make him feel better. With depression, the symptoms are more severe and they last longer. So, if the Daddy Blues last more than two or three weeks, a man’s probably depressed – and he should get help from a mental health professional who specializes in working with men. Left untreated, postpartum depression often worsens.
It’s also important to keep in mind that men are more likely than women to try to hide their depression. And many men are very good at this. In fact, they’re so good at it, they don’t even recognize their depression themselves. So, looking out for any sign of something unusual is critical. The best sign might simply be hearing from his partner, “Honey, you haven’t been yourself lately.”
It’s also important to point out that, even if new fathers don’t have “clinical” symptoms, they can sometimes just feel miserable – and completely alone in their misery. It’s not uncommon for me to hear from men, “I just don’t feel any connection to my baby.” For some men, it’s even harder than this: they can’t stand to be near their baby. They can’t stand the smell of their baby. Or, for other men, they can’t stand to hear their baby cry; just hearing their baby cry makes them completely crazy. And then, on top of that, these men feel horribly guilty for thinking or feeling these things.
What are the causes of men’s Postpartum Depression?
To be frank, we can’t be definitive about the causes of PPND – at least at this point. But, that said, there are a number of factors that research suggest might be possible causes.
It’s likely that sleep deprivation plays a major role in triggering men’s depression. We know that normal, healthy adults who are deprived of good sleep for just one month begin to develop all of the clinical signs of depression. So, sleep deprivation is a very likely cause.
Hormones may also play a role. Everyone knows that pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers go through hormonal changes, but men’s hormones change too. A man’s hormones change both during his partner’s pregnancy and during his baby’s infancy. And it’s a double whammy: not only do our testosterone levels go down, but – at the same time – our estrogen levels go up. Which means less male hormones and more female hormones coursing though our bodies. One man I know got glassy-eyed just learning this; he finally had an explanation why he’d suddenly “broke down in tears” the week before when he saw a squirrel on the street get hit by a car. These hormonal changes can wreak havoc on a man’s life, and may help set the stage for postpartum depression. In fact, there is some evidence linking decreasing testosterone levels with increasing risk of depression in men.
Now, the thing that best predicts whether a man will become depressed is whether his partner is depressed. Half of all men whose partners have postpartum depression are depressed themselves. Part of what I think explains this, is the new father’s loss of his partner to her new job that keeps her occupied 24/7 – and being left on the sidelines while mommy and baby are bonding. We know from lots of research that men have fewer friends and smaller social networks than women do, and that – for many men – their female partners are their primary source of support. The loss of this support – which, of course, is even greater when the mother is depressed – might be a trigger for depression in some men.
Here are some other things that may increase a man’s chances of experiencing PPND are
§ Personal history of depression
§ Relationship stress – with a partner or with in-laws
§ Excessive stress about becoming a parent or father
§ A sick or colicky baby
§ A lack of support from others
§ Economic problems or limited resources
What steps can a man with PPND take to get better and what is the average length of the recovery period?
Well, the good news is that postpartum depression and anxiety are very treatable. Men don’t have to continue suffering. And although these conditions are very serious – and sometimes life-threatening – men can fully recover.
Research shows that the best way to “get better” (or the best treatment) when experiencing depression, is a combination of talk therapy and medication. Now, “talk therapy” can be a scary idea for many men. If that’s the case, then a man should think of it instead as getting some consultation or coaching. The fact is, every man needs a teammate – or a coach – at some time (and sometimes many times) in his life. And if he’s suffering from PPND or depression, that’s one of those times. The important thing is that a man rally with himself to gather the courage necessary to get the help he needs to recover.
It’s also important that he see a psychotherapist who’s trained in working with men. The fact is, we mental health clinicians are human. We’ve grown up with the same stereotypes about men that everyone else has. These stereotypes about how men are supposed to be can often blind clinicians to men’s pain In fact, research shows that trained, mental health clinicians are less likely to correctly diagnosis depression in men than in women. Because of this, and the unique needs men bring to therapy, a man should see someone who has been trained in working specifically with men.
Now, if a man doesn’t get help, it can result in damaging, long-term consequences. Left untreated, we know that postpartum mood disorders often worsen – and they can ruin a man’s marriage or his career, and can lead to serious financial problems. We also know that a father’s PPND has a negative impact on the emotional and behavioral development of his child 3-5 years later.
Suicide, of course, is the most tragic consequence of depression. As I mentioned above, suicide rates are much higher for men than for women. In fact, three U.S. men kill themselves every hour of every day. And men’s depression doesn’t just lead to suicide. Men with depression are twice as likely to die from any cause compared to those men who aren’t depressed. That’s why I call depression “men’s silent killer.”
The truth is, the biggest problem with men’s postpartum depression isn’t the depression itself, but the fact that too many men try to go it alone and don’t get treatment. That’s the worse thing they can do. Men need to recognize that depression is a medical condition – it’s not a weakness of character. For a man to admit he’s depressed isn’t unmanly or admitting defeat; it’s taking charge of his life.
The important thing to remember is that all of the negative consequences of men’s depression are avoidable. With proper treatment and support, men can fully recover from PPND. And if a man can’t do it for himself, he should consider doing for his marriage or the well-being of his child.
Unfortunately, we don’t know how long it takes men to recover from PPND; it’s never been researched. But men should keep in mind that their depression may have been years in the making; it may not disappear overnight. Even a man who recognizes he’s depressed and gets help – by talking to a psychotherapist or consultant right away – can still take a while to recover. If a man starts taking antidepressants, for example, it usually takes the medication 8 to 12 weeks to reach a therapeutic level. The recovery time will also vary depending on what the man’s emotional well-being was like before he became a father.
Now, all of that said, it’s also worth mentioning that – in my experience – men often report at least some relief almost immediately after talking to a mental health professional. That sense of relief often continues until they fully recover from depression.
How can a partner support her husband if he is suffering from PPND?
The number one way a partner can support her husband is by being patient. And the second – and the third – way she can support her husband is by being patient. This is especially true if her husband has already acknowledged that he might need some help.
The fact is, it can take a while for a man to get help – even after he’s decided to do that. And then once he gets help, it can take a while for him to recover. I just heard from a man last week that his wife had been very understanding of his becoming depressed – at first. But when his depression persisted – as it often does, even after beginning treatment – she got impatient. That won’t help a man’s recovery at all.
For the woman who wants to help her husband to get the help he doesn’t know he needs, but she knows he needs, I’d suggest that she look to what’s worked for her in the past. What powers of persuasion has she used that have worked most successfully in the past? What worked when she wanted her partner to do something he didn’t want to do – like cleaning out the garage or mowing the lawn? She should think about these things and what’s worked to influence him in the past. What works is going to be different for every man.
She should also be careful with the words she uses to talk about getting help. She might be comfortable with the notions of “therapy” or “personal growth,” but her partner might not be. It’s a lot safer for her to suggest that he consider some “coaching” or “consultation.” If she’s considering finding some referrals for him, she should try to find someone who’s experienced in working with men.
If both the mother and father are suffering with a Postnatal Mood Issue, what steps should they take together to protect their marriage and the child?
Well, the first thing they should do is to take a deep breath. Then, they should fasten their seat belts and make sure their tray tables are in the upright position.
Now, I don’t want to make light of this most challenging of postpartum situations. But the truth is, it is going to be a very bumpy ride. And, these parents need to be prepared for how bumpy it’s going to get.
Parenthood is hard. Let’s face it; it’s hard for all of us. And, of course, it’s also often filled with pure joy. But, it’s still hard. In fact, three out of four couples say they became dissatisfied with their relationship after their first child was born. That’s because taking care of a new baby is challenging – for most parents. But with postpartum depression it’s different; it’s painfully challenging. And when two parents are depressed, it’s doubly, painfully challenging.
This question is particularly relevant, because we know that half of all women who are depressed have male partners who are also depressed. And – if both parents are depressed – the negative impact on their child’s emotional and behavioral development is even worse than if one parent is depressed.
The truth is, “baby bliss” is something that appears more often in movies and Hallmark cards than in the homes of new parents. Yes, some parents experience what appears to be a seamless transition into parenthood. But I believe that’s the exception. For most parents, it’s more like baby boot camp. (And it’s not the babies who are in training.)
If both mother and father are depressed, professional help is definitely needed – for both of them, individually and as a couple. That means finding an individual psychotherapist for him, one for her, and a couples therapist for both of them. I know it sounds like a lot of talk therapy, but the fact is, that’s the best chance of getting them through this.
Social support for both of them – individually and as a couple – is also going to be important. Involving family can be helpful, but only if the family members involved are supportive of both partners and the relationship. Getting involved in an online forum – like the online forum at www.SadDaddy.com for new fathers – is important. This may be especially true for men, who may be more comfortable getting support in a way that are anonymous.
Probably the best thing couples can to do to protect their marriage – and their child’s development – begins before the baby is even born. Expectant parents should assess both the mother’s and the father’s risk for experiencing postpartum depression (see the question about risk factors). They can go to my web site, www.SadDaddy.com, and check the list of things that can put a man at risk. There are also resources there for new and expectant mothers.
If a man’s at risk for PPND, he should start getting prepared for the possibility that he might become depressed before the baby is born. Building a network of support made up of friends and family – and putting this in place before the birth of his child – is like putting money in the bank. The expectant father can also join a men’s group or a new father’s group.
For men, the best resource is my web site, www.SadDaddy.com. There’s a lot of information, and resources, about men’s postpartum mood disorders, an assessment specifically designed for men to help them determine whether they might be depressed, and an online forum for new dads to talk with one another.
Just as with PPD, is it possible for a father to be ok after one birth and still experience PPND with a subsequent birth?
My guess is, yes. But that’s only a guess; an educated guess. The problem is, we don’t know. We’re only know beginning to understand PPND, and the chance that it can occur after a previously uneventful postpartum experience is unknown.
If you could give an expectant father (new or experienced) just one piece of advice, what would it be?
Have the courage to get help, if you think you might need it. And, if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for your kid’s sake.
And – if I could add a second piece of advice – it would be, be patient with yourself. Parenting is harder than you think. It’s harder than anyone thinks – or anticipates – it will be. It is, as they say, the hardest job you’ll ever have.
And it’s even harder now, when men are expected to be more involved in parenting. Most dads – with their typically can-do approach to things – say, “Sure, of course I’ll be more involved in parenting.” But then they wonder, “What does that mean?”
The fact is, they can’t answer that, because most of these guys had dads who took a completely hands-off approach to parenting. So, that leaves these new dads – who never learned parenting skills from their own dads – uncertain about what to do. Unfortunately, this uncertainty can quickly lead to anxiety – and we know that anxiety postpartum often leads to depression.
Recognizing this – and just how difficult the job of parenting is – will help new dads to cut themselves a little slack. Hopefully, if they can be patient with themselves while they learn this new job, they’ll enjoy being a dad a whole lot more.
There is a reality as powerful and profound as Motherhood. It’s Fatherhood.
Fatherhood” © 2005 Paul C. Smits
Things for us spiraled down very quickly. In some ways things happened so fast that I felt like I was taking part in some made for TV drama. At times I felt almost detached, like I was just playing a role. At other times I felt devastated thinking about losing Denise and all that we had together. I was very lucky to have supportive family and friends; otherwise, I know it would have been much worse. Fortunately, just as quickly as things spiraled down, Denise got better.
2) Would you share your family’s experience with PPD? When did you first realize something wasn’t quite right and what steps were taken to get help?
Here is our story: https://home.comcast.net/~ddklinker/mysite2/Johns_Story.htm
3) Has becoming a Father changed you?
The moment I looked into my daughter’s big brown eyes for the first time, I was a changed person. I felt a huge sense of responsibility come over me as I sat there in the delivery room holding her. The greatest changes came from needing to consider her needs over my own.
4) What aspect of being a Father is the most challenging? The Least?
I think the most challenging aspect of being a father is dealing with the fear of doing it wrong. How do I know that the choices Denise and I make are the right ones? Are we doing enough for the kids, or too much? What makes us qualified to shape the lives of two wonderful human beings? I deal with these fears but remembering that Denise and I are there to provide opportunities, guidance, and boundaries for our kids. They shape their own lives, we just have to do our best to help them make good choices in their lives.
The least challenging aspect of being a Father is enjoying the special times together when everything seems right with the world. Whether it watching them ride their bike for the first time, watching them catch their first fish, or just driving home after a softball game. There have been many times where I know I’ve gotten the father thing right and it’s a great feeling.
5) How did you get involved with PSI and how rewarding has it been to work with Fathers who are where you have been?
I got involved with PSI the same way many other volunteers have, I talked with Jane Honikman. I knew that I wanted to do something to help other dads and Jane was very encouraging. PSI has recognized the importance of reaching out to partners for a long time and needed someone to take the role as Father’s Coordinator. I volunteered and was very warmly welcomed in the organization. I have met many wonderful people through PSI and it has been a great experience for me.
My main involvement at PSI has been talking to fathers on the phone, responding to emails, and maintaining my website. I usually only have 5-10 calls and maybe 10-15 email contacts within a year. Most of the calls are from dads that feel cut out and rejected by their wives. These dads feel devastated and powerless to doing anything about the situation. I have several stories on the postpartumdads.org website from dads dealing with rejection. I have to say, these calls are tough and I often feel inadequate to provide the kind of help these men desperately want.
On a more positive note, I have had several phone calls where I do feel I have made a difference. It is very rewarding when I feel like I have helped someone through a tough time. I have also received a lot of positive feedback on the website, especially the stories.
6) What led you to develop your website for fathers/partners?
After taking some courses through Landmark Education I knew that I wanted to make a difference in the world. While talking with a friend whose wife was experiencing PPD I realized I didn’t know what to say to help him. I talked to him about my experience but I didn’t know what resources were available to help. After looking for resources on the internet I saw that there was very little directed towards the needs of dads dealing with the depression of their wives. I came up with an idea to develop a website that featured stories from other dads with very practical suggestions. I got some great encouragement from the local PSI coordinator Shelly Ashe and from Jane Honikman. With very little experience creating website, I figured out the basics and started with my own story. I have been fortunate to have other dads contribute stories and I am very proud of what we have created.
7) Just as women with PPD learn that taking care of themselves is important, this is a lesson that Fathers should heed as well. What do you do on a regular basis to feed your soul and ensure that you stay in a good place?
I “feed my soul” by doing projects around the house, riding my mountain bike, taking walks, and playing with the kids. I’m currently building a retaining wall in the back yard and I get great satisfaction out of seeing the progress I make each week. It’s the most physical labor I get during a week. I try to mountain bike once a week and the 20 minutes of flying down hill, after the 1 hour going uphill, are the best therapy possible. Everyday at lunch I take a 20 minute walk that helps to clear my mind. I also like to spend as much time with the kids as possible. I enjoy being with them and it’s a great way to see the world through their eyes.
8 ) Did PPD strengthen or weaken your marriage? Do you feel that you both are in a better place now than prior to PPD?
PPD strengthened our marriage. Denise and I have been through some very tough times together and we have been able to support each other through them. Each time we have made it through the tough times we have felt closer as we have more invested in each other. Watching Denise recover from PPD, as well as a life-threatening illness, has been an inspiration to me and many people around her.
9) What aspect of Fatherhood should be celebrated the most?
I see my primary role as a father to be setting the boundaries for my kids. This means keeping them safe, but it also means allowing them to take risks and sometimes going further then their mom would allow. I see myself as being there to back them up as they try new things, from riding a bike, to the first day at a new school. I think the role that fathers play in fostering independence and confidence should be celebrated.
10) If there was one piece of advice you could give to an expectant father (new or experienced), what would it be and why would this be important for him to hear?
My one piece of advice to new dads is to trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem right it probably isn’t. That applies to dealing with PPD was well as dealing with setting boundaries.