Dads and perinatal anxiety and depression

While we’re still trying to get the last crumbs of the Father’s Day breakfast out of the bed, we thought it would be worth reminding our readers of the phenomena of perinatal anxiety and depression (PND) in men. 

If the very idea of PND in men sounds strange to you, you are not alone. There is a common misconception that PND in mothers is hormonal and related to the physical changes of pregnancy and birth. While this can be true, most depression and anxiety in expectant and new mothers and fathers is mental health related. According to PANDA (the Post and Antenatal Depression Association – an organisation sponsored by Placement Solutions), around one in 20 men can experience depression while their partner is pregnant, and twice as many some time after the birth. Anxiety is also common in new fathers.

Common warning signs of depression or anxiety in men include tiredness that seems beyond that normally associated with their situation, uncharacteristic displays of anxiety and/or anger, withdrawal and disconnectedness, and indications of being overwhelmed. 

PND in men can be particularly damaging because it often goes untreated. As we all know, males are notoriously bad at recognising themselves as being unwell, or seeking help if they do. This situation is exacerbated by the widespread lack of awareness of the potential for perinatal depression and anxiety in men.

PANDA CEO Terri Smith says that nannies can be in a good position to recognise PND in new fathers, and to gently raise awareness of it. Experienced nannies have a strong sense of what’s ‘normal’ so might see symptoms in a father that their frazzled partner is unable to spot. 

Raising the subject need not be confronting. A simple but genuine and non-judgmental ‘How are you going?’, asked at a quiet time, can often elicit an admission of not feeling as on top of things as expected. 

In the first instance it can be helpful to normalise the situation, reassuring the father that what they feel is not unusual. Most will be surprised to learn that PND in men is a real ‘thing’. Beyond that Terri asks nannies to encourage men to seek help. She reminds us in the critically important formative weeks and months of a baby’s life, an infant really needs both mum and dad to be at the best they can be.

The PANDA website has an excellent fact sheet summarising this issue, and that can be a good starting point. It can be downloaded here. In addition, they have a website dedicated to PND in men – www.howisdadgoing.org – and a national helpline on 1300 726 306 (operating Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm AEST) that welcomes calls from mums, dads and anyone else seeking advice on depression and anxiety in an expectant or new parent.

 


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