When a baby is born, so are two parents. Going from a couple who can sleep in late on the weekends and easily find time for their hobbies to parents who can’t sleep at all and barely have time to shower can take a serious toll on everyone’s mental health.
In fact, it’s not just moms who can develop serious mood disorders after giving birth — their partners are also at risk for developing postpartum depression, anxiety, and more. If you think your husband has postpartum depression (PPD) or anxiety, here’s what the experts say you can do to start helping right now.
How Common Is Postpartum Depression For Men?
A quick Google search will tell you that anywhere from one in 10 to as many as one in four dads experience PPD. Doctors agree with that general range, and say it’s so broad because one, PPD in men hasn’t been studied much, and two, the stigma of mental health can keep men from seeking help.
“Many people think perinatal mood and anxiety disorders occur exclusively in women. However, one in 10 men will encounter postpartum depression and close to 20% can develop significant anxiety symptoms. This is a growing field and it’s possible that this is not a true estimate of the prevalence,” Jill Garrett, PsyD, psychologist at Baptist Behavioral Health, tells Romper.
“PPD is likely more common in new fathers than we expect because it is under researched, and there is stigma around fathers experiencing PPD,” says Erin O'Callaghan, PhD, Director of Therapy at Brightside, a telemedicine platform that provides anxiety and depression care, in an interview with Romper. “From my experience working with men in therapy at Brightside, PPD is not something most men are really discussing amongst themselves or admitting to one another.”
How To Tell If Your Partner Has Postpartum Depression
It’s natural for parents to be more stressed than usual leading up to birth and during the newborn phase (and that’s kind of an understatement). But how can you tell the difference between that normal level of not OK and true PPD?
“New fathers may experience symptoms of a depressive episode like depressed mood, fatigue, loss of interest in enjoyable activities, issues with eating or sleeping, feelings of worthlessness, difficulty concentrating, or thoughts of suicide,” says O’Callaghan.
“Though the symptoms are not different for men and women, the presentation and the way men and women might experience things like depression and anxiety may be different,” says Garret. “For example, men might have an increase in anger, irritability, or frustration; increased use of substances; increase in isolation or checking out behaviors, like being on the phone or working more than usual; or an increase in physical complaints.”
Also, these experts say your partner is at a higher risk for developing PPD if:
- You also have PPD
- They have a personal or family history of mental health challenges
- They are experiencing sleep disruption
- They are stressed about work, finances, or your relationship
- The pregnancy was not planned, the birth was traumatic, or your child is in the NICU
How To Talk To Your Partner About Postpartum Depression
If that sounds like your partner, make sure they know you’re there for them and want to help however you can. Start the convo by saying you’ve noticed some changes in their behavior and want to check in.
“You could gently point out examples of why you are concerned about them and let them know that you are here to talk and listen,” says O’Callaghan. “You could also normalize their behaviors and feelings by letting them know that sometimes fathers also experience PPD. Many fathers do not know that they themselves may have depression or mood changes after their new baby is born, so letting them know that this can happen to fathers too could help them feel less alone.”
Helping Your Partner Through PPD
If your husband’s postpartum depression is impacting his quality of life, it’s time to look for a mental health provider.
Garrett recommends visiting Postpartum Support International’s website, which has a lot of dad-centric resources, like a monthly support group and panels with fatherhood experts, and can also help you find a psychologist, therapist, or counselor in your area. Psychology Today has provider listings you can filter by specialty too, so you can find someone who’s an expert in PPD, or you can try telehealth options if there aren’t any docs nearby.
“To help anyone suffering from a PMAD, it’s nice to reassure them by mentioning the Postpartum Support International’s mantra: This is not your fault. You are not alone. With help, you will get better. Remind people that their insight around not feeling like themselves is a strength and that seeking care will help them feel more like themselves,” she says.
While you’re waiting for that first appointment (and to support your partner going forward), O’Callaghan says that you can:
- Encourage them to reach out to friends and family who they may be isolated from right now
- Go on walks together with the baby to get exercise and fresh air
- Help them carve out time for self-care, like helping them get out and enjoy a hobby or watch a favorite TV show
- Remind them it’s courageous to ask for help with they need it, and that mental health is just as important as physical health.
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy, or in the postpartum period, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at (888) 724-7240, or Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.
Erin O'Callaghan, Ph.D, Director of Therapy at Brightside
Jill Garrett, PsyD, psychologist at Baptist Behavioral Health