Yes, dads can suffer from paternal postpartum depression – here’s all you need to know

Men, you are at risk of suffering from paternal postpartum depression.
Men, you are at risk of suffering from paternal postpartum depression.

Chances are you’ve probably heard about postpartum depression in moms. As an expectant parent, you don’t always think about your partner’s emotional and mental wellbeing, yet alone your own.

It’s estimated that around one in 10 moms suffer from postpartum depression, and surprisingly the statistics are the same for men.

But many men aren’t talking about mental illness, and it’s literally killing them. Carey Bremridge, a Cape Town-based clinical psychologist and SACAP (The South African College of Applied Psychology) educator, sheds some light on a serious issue we definitely need to talk about, and just how to deal with it.

What is paternal postpartum depression?

It’s normal that after birth for moms to feel sad because of the enormous rush of hormones – but weirdly enough it can be the same for men. Studies suggest that after the birth of their child, dads show a drop in testosterone, which could lead to depression.

“Some researchers believe that hormonal changes don’t only occur for women but men also experience hormonal shifts both during their partner’s pregnancy and after birth. Testosterone levels drop, and oestrogen, prolactin and cortisol levels increase,” says Bremridge.

Sometimes these hormone shifts are temporary and won’t cause major issues. But in other cases, these hormone changes can cause sadness, anxiety and loneliness. Coupled with the sleepless nights, your mental health can take a serious knock.

Read more: 7 surprising signs of depression that prove it’s not all about sadness

What puts you at risk?

Okay, besides the sleeping difficulties, hormone changes, lack of exercise and everything else seeming like it’s in chaos, there are plenty of factors that can make you more at risk of paternal postpartum depression (PPPD). Men who have experienced the following traumas may be more at risk than others:

  • Having an absent father
  • History of abuse in childhood
  • Difficult relationship with your parents
  • The recent loss of a father
  • Being distanced from family
  • Not having close male friends
  • Financial stress
  • Poor work life
  • History of substance abuse
  • Not having a close relationship with the mother of your child.
  • Having a partner that has postpartum depression

What are the signs of PPPD?

Depression displays itself in four categories of symptoms: thoughts, feelings, behaviours and physical. Bremridge says that depression often manifests itself differently in men than it does in women.

On the physical side, you may “experience shortness of breath, heart palpitations, or generalised anxiety or panic attacks, loss of or increased appetite or significant loss or gaining of weight, hyper or hyposomnia, increased or decreased sexual desire and libido,” explains Bremridge. This can also be coupled with feelings of worthlessness, loss of motivation and loss of interest in things that use to bring you joy.

Read more: What you eat could be causing your depression

In general, should you experience five or more of any of the following signs for more than two weeks, you should definitely seek the assistance of a medical professional or counsellor:

  • Increased anger and conflict with others
  • Increased use of alcohol or prescription/street drugs
  • Frustration or irritability
  • Violent behaviour
  • Significant weight gain or loss
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Being easily stressed
  • Impulsiveness or risk taking
  • Feeling discouraged; cynicism
  • Increase in complaints about physical problems, like headaches, digestion problems or pain
  • Problems with concentration or motivation
  • Loss of interest in work, hobbies and/or sex
  • Working constantly
  • Concerns about productivity and functioning at work or school
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling sad or crying for no reason
  • Conflict between how you feel you should be as a man and how you are
  • Thoughts of suicide or death

What to do if you suspect you or someone you know has PPPD

Firstly, it’s important to know that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and that it can be treated, you just have to be willing to get help. It’s very important to be assessed by your GP and a clinical psychologist to rule out any medical or additional mental health diagnoses.

A GP will assess your hormones, your quality of sleep, whether you’re exercising and eating a nutritious diet, among other things. After an assessment, your doctor will help you manage your symptoms. This may be as simple as getting more sleep or as complex as going to therapy. Your doctor may prescribe medication in cases where it is needed.

Read more: How your childhood weight affects your risk of depression

But perhaps, most importantly, men need to talk about their mental illnesses. In South Africa, an average of 18 men per day commit suicide due to mental illnesses, so why the silence?  “We need to support men to break the masculinity gender stereotypes and encourage them to step out of their prescribed societal gender roles which teaches men to ‘stay strong as big boys don’t cry,’” says Bremridge. Being afraid of stepping out of what society deems masculine is killing men.

Bremridge adds, “Therapy is not simply sitting around talking about one’s feelings ad infinitum. Therapy is about gaining an understanding of what we are troubled by, and how, together with a trusted trained professional, one can find a way forward by reducing and resolving those troubles.”

It’s vital that as an expectant father, you are involved in the role of parenting from day one. Bremridge says that “men often want to help but feel uncertain how to get stuck in and help as women have been the primary parental figure during pregnancy”.

Make it clear to your partner that want to actively be involved in parenting your child, and that includes you doing things that are not always “mom's way”. As a father, you will have your own unique way of parenting, and your partner has to allow you to develop your relationship with your child.

“While Mom can offer advice, it is important to let each partner develop their own unique and individual relationship and interactional style with their child,” explains Bremridge.

Furthermore, it’s totally normal that after the birth of your child you might not immediately feel love towards your child. Or sometimes you might regret having kids – it’s all “perfectly normal to think and feel especially on the days when both baby and Dad haven’t slept, haven’t eaten, and you have just changed another nappy and been thrown-up on – it’s only when those feelings last for more than a few consecutive days that one should be concerned,” cautions Bremridge.

Read more: Be their hero: Siya Kolisi’s journey to fatherhood

If you or a loved one needs help, you can contact:

  • Lifeline – 0861 322 322
  • Suicide Crisis Line – 0800 567 567
  • SADAG Mental Health Line – 011 234 4837

This article was originally published on

Image credit: iStock

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
28% - 9936 votes
72% - 25943 votes