Hey there, Dad!
Welcome to fatherhood. It’s funny how you get handed a tiny little person who looks like you, and somehow, you’re expected to figure it all out. With any luck, you’ve got a great partner who is on this journey in parenthood with you, and hopefully, you’ve got a terrific team behind you, with new grandparents, aunts, uncles, and some mates to cheer you on. It’s exciting, exhausting, and maybe a bit terrifying to step up into this role.
You learn as you go along. You might put a nappy on backwards once or twice. You’ll realise pretty fast that feeding a baby is thirsty work, and your partner needs a glass of water while she’s hard at it, thanks. You’ll be tired as you head out the door to go to work after another rough night with an unsettled tot. People will tell you it’s okay, it’s all part of being a new father.
And maybe, despite feeling worn out, you’ll be feeling pretty optimistic about your new little family. But maybe you won’t. And maybe you’ll find it hard to put that into words, and even harder to tell someone about it.
We need to talk more about male postpartum depression & anxiety disorders
You have seen many stories from mothers experiencing postpartum depression, anxiety, and phobias. It has an incidence of one in five women. But it is unlikely you have any idea how you may experience male postpartum depression symptoms. You’re not alone. While Australia has come a long way in recognising the mental health challenges of expectant and new mums, we haven’t been doing such a top job in noticing and supporting new dads. One father in ten will experience significant problems with anxiety and depression during pregnancy and the first year after birth, but few will get help.
Why is that? Well, for one thing, health services are geared to looking after pregnant women and babies, and while dads are certainly welcome to attend checkups, ultrasounds, and be there at the birth, not many health professionals are asking dads how they’re really going, and that’s a problem. Prenatal and postnatal women are routinely screened for postnatal and antenatal depression, using tools like the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, and if they’re at risk, the midwife or doctor will usually take steps to help them get support. But no-one is screening sad dads, and this needs to change.
Asking for help can be hard. Most men will talk to their partner about their worries, if they talk to anyone at all. But when your partner is pregnant or has a new baby, a lot of men feel like they have to be strong and supportive for her, which makes them less likely to speak up and seek help. Especially for mental health. At ForWhen, we are here to hear you.
Paternal Postpartum Depression Signs & Symptoms
A range of factors can make dads more likely to experience male postpartum depression symptoms. Sleep disruption, changes in your diet and ability to get to the gym, and your relationship with your partner will change. And we’re not just talking about sex, although that is definitely part of it. You and your significant other are now Team Parent, and that takes some adjustment.
Anxiety and postnatal depression can show themselves in a range of ways. Low mood, sadness, irritability, anger, crying, fatigue, and feeling unmotivated are common signs. Depression can cause you to sleep either a lot more or a lot less. Or you could be waking during the night, and finding it impossible to drift off again. Many men put this down to feeling stressed or overwhelmed, when it might actually be a lot more serious than that. If you’re having feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, or harming yourself or others, you really need to get help.
Some guys try to numb or avoid the difficult feelings by staying late at work, drinking more, or using other substances. These short-term fixes can actually do long-term damage to your health and relationships.
And while it might seem like things will get better when the baby is sleeping more, or your partner is less exhausted, or work lets up a bit, you might find that things get a lot worse. If your car started making noises and the engine overheating, you wouldn’t expect to solve that by driving it harder on rough roads. So don’t do that to yourself, either. Do some maintenance work on your mental health before you burn out your own engine.
So why are expectant and new fathers at risk of mental health problems? There are so many reasons. Becoming a parent is a big responsibility and a huge adjustment, which can feel overwhelming. Financial pressures, employment insecurity, sleep deprivation and disruption, can all be super stressful.
The relationship with your partner goes through a lot of changes, affecting emotional and sexual intimacy. If your partner had a traumatic birth experience, you might be deeply affected and traumatised too, and maybe no-one is asking how you’re going after being part of that. Having a baby who is premature or has health problems is also overwhelming and distressing for parents.
Even when you’re home and adjusting to life with a baby, the demands of being half of the parenting team can limit the time you have available to catch up with your friends, play sport, and do other recreational activities. And if your partner is experiencing postnatal depression and anxiety, this can increase your risk of mental health issues, because providing support and feeling alone in the parenting journey is very isolating. And maybe, despite all your best intentions, you don’t know how to give that support, which can make you feel overwhelmed and inadequate.
Becoming a dad is a big transition. It’s one of the most complex experiences in your life, affected by social support, financial stability, and the role models you’ve had in your life. If you’ve struggled with your mental health in the past, you’re at high risk of having problems now. A bloke is two to three times more likely to have mental health issues when his partner is pregnant and in the year following the arrival of a new baby.
Becoming a dad is an emotional rollercoaster and it’s totally okay to admit you’re struggling. Don’t put off taking care of your mental health. Think of it like car maintenance—you gotta take care of the engine (that’s you!) before it burns out.
Some dads try to deal with difficult feelings by avoiding or numbing behaviours. This might mean staying at work longer than you have to, delaying going home, drinking more or using other substances. While these behaviours might make you feel better in the moment, ultimately they can be really damaging to your health and your relationship with your partner and family.
Building healthy routines in eating, exercise, downtime, and limiting unhealthy foods and habits is a great first step, but understanding why you’re feeling the way you are and working through those feelings is incredibly important.
Watch out for these signs of paternal depression and anxiety
- Rapid changes in your weight, gaining or losing
- Lack of sleep or wanting to sleep all the time
- Trouble concentrating or remembering tasks
- Anxiety attacks
- Excessive worry
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or hopelessness about the future
- Withdrawal from friends, family, and your partner
Do I really need to get help?
If you’re noticing the behaviours or feelings mentioned above in yourself during your partner’s pregnancy or soon after having a child, yeah, you probably do.
We know that asking for help can be hard. There are a lot of expectations on men to be tough, independent, and able to provide for the family. But you can’t be a great dad if you’re struggling. Postnatal depression and anxiety in dads affects the wellbeing of babies, kids, and partners. Plus, you need to do it for yourself, to be your best self.
So how do I get help?
Jumping onto Google to look for support can be a like catching a flood in a bucket. It’s hard to know what is relevant and reliable, and costs aren’t always transparent. So call us on 1300 24 23 22. We take the time to hear what’s on your mind, assess how you’re going, and give you guidance and support in taking the next steps in caring for your mental health. We’ve done the hard yards in finding out what’s available, what’s good, and what it costs.
We listen to what dads need, and direct them to programs and services that focus on men’s experiences in mental health, and can connect you with other dads who can relate to what you’re going through.
If you’re a dad in Australia looking for mental health support, ForWhen is like having a savvy mate who can guide you to the right place, without any sketchy motives. This isn’t some fly-by-night operation. It’s backed by the Australian government and has Care Navigators in every state and territory.
When you call ForWhen, you’re going to be speaking with someone who knows mental health. The ForWhen team are all experienced clinicians who can listen to you and guide you to where to get the right help and treatment options for you. We don’t get kickbacks or financial incentives from any commercial interests. We’re here to get you connected with the right help within your budget.
ForWhen is a free Australian government backed team of Care Navigators in every state and territory, so we know the services in your region. And as part of a national team, we can get you in touch with telehealth help if there are limited options in your neck of the woods, or if you just prefer to do things online.
Do I have to go and see someone in person?
If you want to, sure. But if that feels like a bit much for you, then there are lots of other alternatives, like online counselling. Or by phone, if you don’t like the idea of videolink. And there are online self-help programs that can help you understand why you’re feeling the way you are, and positive steps you can take to make things better.
Like anything online, there are some great options that have strong research behind them, and a lot of others that are untested, unregulated, unreliable, and probably trying to sell you something. We can help you find services and programs that are a good fit for you, that come from reputable sources, backed with strong scientific evidence, and aren’t going to steal your data.
Are people going to try and put me on happy pills?
Not necessarily. In some situations, antidepressant medications can make a huge difference in recovering from postnatal depression and anxiety, but they are usually accompanied by counselling and therapy.
You might not need medication in treatment at all. Sometimes just talking to someone, either a professional or a peer support group with other dads who have been there, can make a world of difference.
Along with healthy eating, physical activity, and exploring ways to deal with painful feelings and history of depression, there are lots of ways to make things better. The main thing is not to go it alone, and get support from someone who won’t judge you.
Your GP is the first port of call for exploring whether you need medication, and if so, what sort and for how long. If you have worries about how medication might affect you, start with a conversation to address those concerns, and to look at all the options.
Tips for first time dads:
- Rest when you can, and recognise that your partner is tired too. Don’t be tempted to compete with your partner about who is more tired. Remember you are a team. Support each other as much as you can.
- Exercise regularly. This might look different from your usual routine, so be open to change. Taking the baby out for a walk is good for your health, is a great way to connect with bub, and gives your partner a break, too.
- Support from friends and family. When people offer help, say yes. You’ll need it. And one day, it’ll be your turn to pay it forward.
- Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Your partner, your mates, your siblings, your parents. There is no shame in seeking professional support if you need it.
- Learn coping strategies to prevent parental burnout and the importance of ‘me’ time, setting aside personal time to relax and rejuvenate, as these breaks can keep you fresh and energised for your family.
Getting prepared for fatherhood
Early parenthood is one of the biggest changes you’ll ever go through. Be ready to receive useful tips, and be prepared to politely ignore advice that doesn’t align with your attitudes and values. But remember that most people only want the best for you and your family.
New fathers’ groups and services are out there, and we can help you find them. Learning the nuts and bolts of caring for babies while maintaining your sanity can be gained from the wisdom of the group.
Invest in your relationships during the pregnancy and after bub is born. You’ll find a new appreciation for the great role models who were around when you were growing up. And if there were people who didn’t do the best by you as a kid now is a good time to work through that history with professional support, so you can learn and grow from those experiences.
Great dads need a great team
If you know a new dad, ask him how he is. Really ask him. And listen to the answer. If you’re worried about him, get him to call ForWhen to speak with one of our experienced Care Navigators. No judgment, no issues, no cost. It might be the best Father’s Day gift he ever gets.
The ForWhen helpline is just a call away, ready to listen and connect you with the right local support that suits your needs. Call 1300 24 23 22 to get started.
Frequently Asked Questions
See our answers below to commonly asked questions we receive about postpartum depression in dads.