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Paternal Postnatal Depression - Yes, Men Get It Too

20/11/2015 17:38 GMT | Updated 20/11/2016 10:12 GMT

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HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.

Having a child is a life-changing event. Being a new parent pushes the mental boundaries in which life has, until now, been experienced - in each direction, good and bad, challenging and rewarding.

For women, this is usually no longer a controversial thing to admit. The highs and lows of adjusting to life as a mother as well as issues like postnatal depression and postnatal psychosis are well documented in the media. Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Elle Macpherson have talked publicly about their battles with PND, helping to lift the taboo around it.

But what if it's not the mother who is hit by feelings of being overwhelmed or even postnatal depression itself?

Recent figures suggest that up to one in four fathers experience depression following the birth of their child with around one in 28 suffering a serious episode. Male suicide rates are also 3 times those of women, so it seems never has there been a better time to include Dads in the discussion around men's pre and postnatal mental health.

Pregnancy and parenting is still largely a maternalised subject. Expectant mothers are entered into the system at around 8 weeks of pregnancy and routine sets of questions help keep an eye on her mental state as she progresses into parenthood. For expectant fathers, no such formal structure exists.

"In discussing paternal PND, we are where we were 25 years ago in discussing maternal PND", says Lloyd Phillpott a lecturer and researcher from University College Cork. "It is getting better" he argues "but we are just at the beginning of understanding the problem in terms of what may cause it or the factors that might prevent it"

One of the main problems in dealing with Paternal Postnatal Depression, PPND, is detecting it. PPND can mean anything from a general sense of unease, anxiety, inadequacy, loss and sadness to panic attacks, uncontrolled sobbing, anger, uninterest in the child or even suicidal thoughts. It can happen after any child is born, not just the first and can take months to manifest itself. For the many fathers wrestling with these traumatic feelings, help is often hard to come by.

One of the most important things, experts agree, is to recognise potential triggers and keep a closer eye on those who may be predisposed to PPND, just as we have learned to do with new mothers. For men, key triggers can be living with a partner who's suffered with postnatal depression, having had depression in the past, antenatal anxiety, financial pressure, a traumatic birth experience or being a younger father. Take any one of these elements and throw in sleep deprivation, the needs of a new baby and those of a partner and there is a recipe for pulling the rug out from under most Dads. This is not to say suffering some of these factors means a father will suffer PPND but recognising that if he does, there is help and support at hand and that he's not alone.

Research published by the University of West England in 2008 says that many "first‐time fathers described themselves as bystanders: more detached than they expected or wanted to be". Being uncertain of just what the role of the father is, let alone how to assume it, is a common sentiment expressed among new Dads, not only those suffering with PPND. It's an issue that some organisations are trying to address.

Since 2011, the Royal College of Midwives suggests how fathers can be involved from the prenatal period onwards in order to help make them feel part of the process in their own right. As Adrienne Burgess of the Fatherhood Institute adds "it's not about changing services but about including men in the services that already exist". Mothers are no longer seen as the only "gatekeepers to the nursery". As the research and evidence mounts up, it's increasingly important to look at the whole family unit, including the role of the father and his mental wellbeing.

Experts caution that there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach but there are some core strategies which can help someone suffering with PPND. The most important is encouraging men to talk. This can be to their spouse, friend, GP, other PPND sufferers in a group or support networks such as PANDAS, Acacia, Bluebellcare.org or NCT. For many, this can be enough to set someone on the road to recovery. There is also therapy, CBT, family support, possibly medication and exercise to consider.

As Lloyd Philpott says "society is changing. We expect more from fathers as caregivers and women as breadwinners....The role of fathers is determined by what society thinks a father should be and that's totally different from 50 years ago".

With the rule book on fatherhood seemingly there to be rewritten, perhaps one which not only acknowledges but encourages men to talk about their struggles with fatherhood will help more men on the road to recovery sooner. A Dad who can understand what it is to face, and overcome, his demons is a role model we would all want for our children.

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