I think fathers are often the silent bystanders when it comes to postpartum depression and anxiety. New dads may not know how to support their struggling partners, or may be dealing with their own intense challenges following childbirth. With the expectation that dads will support their partners and new babies above all else there is often no time or space left over to address paternal issues. Paternal depression is real and is thought to occur in about 5% of new fathers. This is about half the rate of maternal depression but still amounts to a significant segment of the population. Fathers who have supported a partner with PPD/A are at higher risk for developing paternal depression. Depression in dads frequently develops just as the mother is resolving her own mental illness. This makes a lot of sense. After pouring all of their resources into caring for a partner and new baby, fathers eventually crumble under the pressure. When they do fall apart there is often no one there to catch them. Societal pressure to keep a strong facade and partners who are in no emotional condition to provide support after the birth of a child leave new fathers high and dry and afraid to voice their experiences. And while there are at least some resources out there for women suffering from PPD/A, there are far fewer formal resources for men.
This needs to change and Fathers Day is an ideal time to draw attention to the men who are too often overlooked when it comes to the transition to parenthood. So today this blog is dedicated to you: to the father who puts his own struggles aside to support his new family, to the father who is learning to give voice to his own insecurity, to the father who feels lost and unsure how to help a partner with PPD/A, to the father who can’t find the path back to his own mental wellness. To all the fathers–you’re not alone. Other new dads are struggling along in silence. Some are courageously breaking that silence and sharing their perspectives. Here Allen Lam shares his story of paternal depression and the lessons he learned to help him recover.
Pacific Post Partum Support Society phone lines are always open to men who need support and it’s our hope that support groups can be developed in the future. We can’t afford to ignore mental health issues in fathers. Untreated paternal depression leads to many of the same long term repercussions as PPD/A in women.
So what can we tell the fathers on Fathers Day, those of us who have been visited by intense difficulty after the birth of a child? We might say: your pain is real. It is borne out of an overwhelming love and it cannot be ignored. Silence only incubates your grief and makes it more powerful. You did not birth your child but you can birth your soul anew when your child calls you “daddy” for the first time. You can bring your words and experience to light so that other men feel less alone. Once the words start they become easier and, I promise, they are healing. We might say: your partner loves you and your children love you even though it doesn’t always feel that way. The mother-baby dyad can feel exclusive and you may think that you exist outside of that elemental love. But the truth is that you are fundamental to it. A father has the power to hold space for his new family. It’s an essential role, and one that is not given its due. The non birthing partner holds space for the ceremony of becoming a family, and if that role feels heavy and if you find yourself falling to pieces know that its a very normal thing and you are not the only one bowing under the stress. Finally we might say: there is hope if only you have the courage to admit to needing help. Parenthood is not designed to be carried out in isolation and many broken places can be healed by immersion in a supportive community. It’s a sad reality that there aren’t many formal support communities out there for dads which means that, for now, you need to create your own. Sharing experience is the first step towards developing such communities.
For further reading and resources you can explore these articles:
Ally Fogg’s article on paternal depression in The Guardian
Beyond Blue’s information page on depression in non-birthing partners
Video interview with Allen Lam about his postpartum depression journey
Wishing you a fulfilling Fathers Day from Pacific Post Partum Support Society.