By Olivia Spencer, author of Sad Dad: An Exploration of Postnatal Depression in Fathers (Free Association Books, September 2014, £12.99)
Postnatal depression in dads can be much more difficult to spot than it is in mothers. The symptoms of depression are different for men, and, coupled with the fact that men are less likely to admit that they are feeling depressed or to seek help means that this remains a woefully under-acknowledged and unrecognised condition. While fathers can experience some of the same symptoms as mothers who suffer from PND, such as fatigue, loss of appetite, loss of interested in the world, insomnia and feelings of guilt and worthlessness – these are not experienced by all men and not all of the time. A father who is suffering from depression is more likely to become angry, or to throw himself into work or a hobby, or sometimes to start drinking more alcohol – all to remove themselves from the difficulties they face at home and the struggles they have with their new role as a father. This sort of behaviour is not often connected to depression and sometimes it can lead to the breakdown of a relationship.
It is important that we recognise that the condition exists, since the effects of depression can not only affect the relationship of the parents, but it can also have long-lasting consequences for the child, or children involved. There are some organisations in the UK who are trying to raise the profile of fathers in maternity services. Fathers, they argue, should be seen and treated as part of a parenting team from the very beginning and while it is routine for the mood of the mother to be thought about after the birth it should also be routine for fathers to be asked after. Fathers are forgotten. Antenatal classes and appointments do revolve around the mother and baby, and of course it’s important for mother to be prepared for childbirth and beyond, but it is just as important that fathers are prepared too. Slowly, some companies are offering male-only antenatal classes and father’s groups which are an important step in the right direction.
One thing that we can all do is to remember that fathers might be affected by depression in the months surrounding the birth. We should also encourage mothers and other family members to take notice of unusual behaviour and to keep the door open for a man to talk about his feelings if he needs to.
Sad Dad: An Exploration of Postnatal Depression in Fathers costs £12.99 and is available for pre-order before publication on 1 September