PND in men
It can happen
When James held his daughter for the first time, he knew he wanted to give his little girl the world. Suddenly, work took on a whole new meaning. He needed that promotion now that he had to provide financially for his larger family. The burden was intense and he took to working long hours away from home. The pressure, combined with the sleepless nights of parenting, eventually broke him. He became irritable and anxious, and his libido declined until it was nonexistent. Was he suffering from male PND? It’s more than likely. A study in The Journal of the American Medical Association reports 10 percent of men suffer from prenatal and postpartum depression. And, that number climbs in the three- to sixmonth postpartum period. Depression, the study found, has a greater probability of occurring if the mother also experiences PND.
WHAT ELSE CAUSES PND IN MEN?
There are other risk factors that are more likely to predispose men to PND. Linda Lewis, a research psychologist who specialises in the area of postnatal distress and author of the book When Your Blessings Don’t Count: A Guide to Recognising and Treating Postnatal Distress (Metz, 2011), mentions the following factors: Is the relationship between you and your partner strained? Was this an unplanned pregnancy? Are there financial difficulties? The onus of being the sole breadwinner can, for obvious reasons, be very daunting to men. Have you previously experienced depression? Even though the risk factors of PND in men are fairly well known, the diagnosis is tricky to make.
IT’S NOT SO SIMPLE
The problem, explains Linda, is that men don’t report themselves as feeling depressed. They’ll use words like stressed, overwhelmed, and frustrated, but not the language that’s commonly associated with depression. Research has also shown that depression manifests differently in men than it does in women: When feeling depressed, women are more likely to ruminate – rehashing and dwelling on negative feelings. Men seem better able to distract themselves when feeling down. Men are more likely to abuse alcohol and other substances to medicate themselves prior to depression setting in. Men also have a tendency to mask their depressed feelings by using outlets such as TV, sports, excessive working, or engaging in risky behaviour (such as gambling, smoking, unsafe sex, etc). Men are likely to exhibit anger and irritability when depressed, rather than sadness. Because the symptoms of depression in men tend to go on for longer periods without diagnosis or treatment, they are more likely to commit suicide than women. Even when they encounter psychological help for depression, men have a greater tendency to project their feelings onto their partners. “So, they might say things like, ‘ You’re not coping and that’s why I’m not coping. If you were okay, I’d be fine’. This protects men from confronting what they’re feeling,” says Linda. There is a further problem when it comes to diagnosing PND in fathers. It’s difficult to distinguish the inevitable results of those early months of child-rearing from the symptoms of depression. Author of the book Sad Dad: An Exploration of Postnatal Depression in Fathers, Olivia Spencer says, “PND in men is difficult to diagnose. Of course disturbed sleep, lack of energy, loss of appetite and even feelings of guilt are all part and parcel of caring for a new baby. But they can also be symptoms of depression in both mothers and fathers.” Craig Wilkinson is the author of a local inspirational book on fatherhood, Dad – The Power and Beauty of Authentic Fatherhood ( thedadbook.co.za) and the online course The Dad Journey. He advises new dads to be very aware of their emotions, to communicate openly, to develop a good support network and to incorporate family time and me-time into their daily lives. “Perhaps the biggest challenge for new dads is adjusting to a life where
your time, space, money and wife are no longer just yours, but have been invaded by a very demanding bundle of joy and chaos. Under these circumstances, many dads can feel underappreciated and tired,” he says.
WHAT TO DO?
It’s very important that both moms and dads approach the birth of their babies and the first few months of life with the right mindset to help guard against postnatal depression. But should you feel you meet the signs of PND (see below), its imperative that you seek help from a professional or consult a support organisation like the Post Natal Depression Support Association ( pndsa.org.za). “Men need to understand that something is going to give when you have a child,” says Linda. So before things get mired too deeply in the mists of PND, bear in mind that things won’t be the same as they were before and it’s okay not to be in control all the time. There may be a degree to which you feel excluded from the mother- child bond, especially if she’s exclusively breastfeeding. Sexual intimacy, at least for the time being, is likely to drop. Plus, the emotional connection with your “demanding bundle of joy and chaos” might not be plain sailing. Unlike women, you’re suddenly introduced to a new person who you haven’t carried for the past nine months, but who depends on you nonetheless. And moms, be careful not to facilitate feelings of incompetence in your baby’s father. Moms frequently want men to look after the baby on their terms and this doesn’t aid the man in establishing his own rapport with his new child. “Leave him,” advises Linda. “He’ll work it out just like you have.” Remember that having a baby is probably one of the most significant life events ever. Everything changes; nothing is the same again. But even through the potentially hard days and long nights, remember there’s support out there. You just have to be willing to look for it.