Postpartum depression for partners

Perinatal Mood Disorders for Fathers – A Comprehensive Guide

The general consensus for the definition of perinatal is “the period surrounding the time of birth. 

Now let’s incorporate potential mood disorders into this time period and we have a number of conditions, factors, and symptoms that play a role in disrupting a father’s life. 

Perinatal mood disorders could potentially start from the time of conception with mom all the way up to a year after birth. That is nearly two years of a mental condition taking root and creating a challenging environment for a father to thrive in! 

Let’s not lose hope here as the purpose of this article is to bring more awareness to this issue and address the multiple perinatal mood disorders, their factors and symptoms, and seeking treatment.

While it is more common for the mother to be screened for perinatal mood disorders, I strongly believe that the father should be included as well in every instance of a mental health checkup. 

It takes two fully present, healthy, mentally prepared, and dedicated parents to successfully build a team for raising a newborn. If one of the parents is mentally struggling for periods on end, this affects not only that parent but the partner, child, work, family, and life! 

The early stages of childhood are so important for the development of a child, and when a father is unable to live to their full potential because of a perinatal mood disorder, this has a very good chance of affecting the child’s life as well. 

What are perinatal mood disorders?

There is a list of perinatal mood disorders that affect both the mother and the father, as mental illnesses do not discriminate against who they impact.

That is one critical point to remember when working with perinatal mood disorders. As much as the mother has gone through with pregnancy, delivery, breastfeeding, and more, the father can be just as susceptible to being affected by a mental illness. 

Prevalence and incidence

The prevalence and incidence of perinatal mood disorders can vary depending on a few factors that we must consider. 

Where you live can have a huge impact on the frequency of perinatal mood disorders.

  • People in lower-income
  • Poverty-stricken
  • Less-developed regions

These circumstances tend to develop perinatal mood disorders more frequently compared to a more equipped healthcare system and better resources. 

Depression and anxiety typically range from 10-15% of fathers that are affected in the perinatal time period. 

PPD has a higher incidence rate of developing within the first 3 months of childbirth, as these tend to be the most difficult and challenging times while you are trying to figure out your newborn.

PPA balances out a little more by affecting fathers pre-birth and post-birth. There is a lot of anticipation and unsureness throughout pregnancy which can cause anxiety and a mood disorder.

Risk Factors for Fathers

While some of the risk factors are similar between the mother and father, there are a few different ones that concentrate more on the father’s side. 

Regardless, here is a list of risk factors that affect fathers, and bear in mind that there always could be outside factors that make an impact as well not listed here:

  • History of mental health challenges: This could be considered the most significant factor as having a history can be a breeding ground for new mood disorders
  • Partners mental health: If your partner is struggling with a perinatal mood disorder, that can make it very difficult for the father to be both supportive and helping raise the baby, creating some very stressful and tense emotions
  • Little social support: Not having a strong social network to be there for you can make a father feel isolated and alone
  • Financial trouble: Adding a new human into your life creates new expenses which can burden the father’s responsibility at times for providing for the family while the mother is on maternity leave
  • Lack of sleep: Not getting adequate sleep is a huge detriment to being able to have proper cognitive functioning, paving the way for mood disorders to develop
  • Disconnect with mom and baby: Father may feel like they are pushed aside and not as important when the baby comes along, creating emotions of feeling unwanted and isolation
  • Experiencing a traumatic birth: While a perfect birth may go well on the medical side, it could be a traumatic experience for a father who in my opinion can never be fully prepared to witness their partner giving birth until they are actually watching it live

Common misconceptions

As stated earlier, most of the focus is on the mother throughout pregnancy and post-birth, for the right reason as she is growing and raising a human being!

However, the lack of attention for fathers creates the stigma that all dads should be stoic, not affected, and the rock of the family. This couldn’t be further from the truth when fathers are just as susceptible to developing perinatal mood disorders as mothers are. 

Parenting is a life-altering event and so is preparing for a child. The pressures and challenges that accompany these experiences create a lot of stress leading to anxiety and depression, both perinatal mood disorders.

Fathers may be labelled as just having “the baby blues” when overwhelmed with emotions and struggling to work through challenges. The degradation of their true feelings can isolate them and put them on an island with little support or awareness.

Types of Perinatal Mood Disorders in Fathers

Below are the different types of perinatal mood disorders that can affect fathers. Sometimes one can lead to another or co-exist in some severe cases. 

Keep in mind, if any of these signs or symptoms relate to what you are going through, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!! 

This article would not be written if it were just you going through this, and there are many other affected fathers out there in the same boat. With help and a program to work through your perinatal mood disorder, you can reclaim your identity and live the life you were meant to.

Postpartum Depression in Fathers

 PPD in fathers can show up in many different forms ranging from:

  • Sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness
  • Increased frustration and irritability
  • Overly tired
  • Overwhelming feelings
  • Feeling unworthy or guilty
  • Little desire for things once enjoyed
  • Social isolation
  • Using alcohol and drugs to numb emotions

Postpartum Anxiety in Fathers

  • Excessive worry over the well-being of baby
  • Stronger irritability than usual
  • Intrusive, racing thoughts
  • Panic attacks
  • Hypervigilance with protecting the baby
  • Difficulty concentrating affecting everyday life
  • Restlessness and muscle tension

Postpartum OCD in Fathers

 PPD OCD in fathers can show up in many different forms ranging from:

  • Intrusive and disturbing thoughts
  • Fear of harming the baby accidentally
  • Shame and guilt
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Seeking reassurance from others constantly
  • Avoiding situations that trigger OCD thoughts

Postpartum PTSD in Fathers

  • Flashbacks of the traumatic event
  • Nightmares that can result in a lack of sleep
  • Distressing and intrusive thoughts
  • Emotional numbing or a persistent negative mood

Baby Blues vs. Perinatal Mood Disorders

Baby blues may carry similar symptoms and signs as perinatal mood disorders, but it’s the longevity of them that defines their severity. While at times it may be common to experience sadness, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, etc throughout pregnancy and post-birth, it is when these emotions typically last longer than two weeks that it could be a perinatal mood disorder. 

If you suspect that you may not have the baby blues because you can’t shake these overwhelming emotions, your best plan of action is to seek treatment and start self-care practices as soon as possible. 

The longer you wait, the harder it becomes to become who you know you are capable of.

How perinatal mood disorders may manifest in fathers

Emotional symptoms

Emotional symptoms such as feeling sad, depressed, hopeless, or a lack of interest in things that once excited you can develop into a perinatal mood disorder. 

The perinatal time period goes through many roller coasters that can bring out the best and worst of fathers. It is through acknowledging and being aware of these emotions that we can help process and overcome them. 

When these emotions start to become overwhelming and affect your daily life and negatively impact your family, that is when seeking help should become a priority, and putting yourself first with self-care practices to alleviate the symptoms.

Behavioral symptoms

Lashing out, becoming irritated at little things, and having severe anxiety are some examples of behavioral symptoms that can be signs of something more severe. 

When your fuse is too short to handle a simple situation that you typically would be able to in the past, this is a warning sign that possibly PPA is manifesting.

Knowing yourself and how you react to things is incredibly important in identifying these symptoms and taking the right steps to seek help. 

The last thing you want to do is hide, numb, or disregard what is happening because it can help fuel the fire that is slowly burning.

Physical symptoms

Perinatal mood disorders can manifest through physical symptoms such as stomach issues, headaches, muscle tension, and body aches. When you don’t have an outlet to relieve your stress or anxiety or a way to process it, the body can take a heavy toll through these physical symptoms that develop. 

Being able to identify a new pain and associating it with your emotions can help shed light that a potential mood disorder is beginning to manifest. 

The body can have a strange way of compartmentalizing your emotions in different areas, so being very aware and educated on this will help nip it in the bud before it turns into a severe mood disorder.

Cognitive symptoms

Having trouble concentrating or finishing a task or even processing an everyday problem can be a symptom of a perinatal mood disorder. When your cognitive functions are disrupted affecting your daily life, this can begin to spiral into a serious condition such as PPD or PPA. 

Talking about it with your partner is a powerful tool to help understand and vent about what you are going through. This can bring your partner into the equation to help support and alleviate some of the decision-making needs of your new family.

Contributing Factors

Here are some of the major contributing factors:

Social and relationship factors

Not having a strong social group to lean on can be a significant contributing factor to developing a perinatal mood disorder. It can make a father feel alone and isolated from the outside world, creating a difficult path to recovery.

Relationship strain with your partner can also play a massive role in developing a mood disorder. If things were rocky before the baby, the uncertainty and new challenges that arise can transition into very challenging times for fathers. 

A lack of intimacy is something to note as well with your partner, as that can change after having a baby resulting in some disruptive and intrusive emotions and thoughts.

Lack of support

Without proper support either through family, partner, co-workers, or friends, it can be very difficult for fathers to feel comfortable reaching beyond professional help. 

Sometimes just having a friend acknowledge what you are going through and push you in the direction of seeking professional help can be the game changer for overcoming a perinatal mood disorder. 

Without this type of support, fathers can feel hopeless and completely alone with their overwhelming emotions

Coping with a partner’s perinatal mood disorder

As mentioned earlier, it takes two mentally fit parents to create an unstoppable team with raising a newborn, and if your partner is struggling with a perinatal mood disorder, this can seem like an overwhelming situation to overcome. 

Not only can the father feel responsible for taking care of the house, the baby, and finances, but now they must step up to support the mother as well.

These life challenges can become very overwhelming for some fathers, potentially transitioning into a perinatal mood disorder.

Hormonal changes in fathers

Some fathers also experience hormonal changes as they go through the stages of conception up to a year after birth.

Depending on how significant these changes are can start to have a longer-term impact on their mental well-being. 

Just like the mother can go through hormonal changes, so too can the father, and this needs to be taken into consideration when dealing with these factors for perinatal mood disorders.

The importance of seeking help

Something that I can not emphasize more is the importance of seeking help as early as possible. Just like with any illness, nipping a perinatal mood disorder in the bud will shorten the recovery period to becoming the person you are capable of.

Sometimes it just takes turning to your partner or a family member and letting them know what you are experiencing. 

Not only does this talk therapy help get some emotions off your chest, but can bring another person in your corner to help you take the initiative with either seeking professional help, a support group, or some self-care practices.

Some of the treatment options for fathers with perinatal mood disorders are:

  • Education: Understanding your symptoms and how they play a factor in perinatal mood disorders
  • Talk therapy: There is cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, or supportive therapy typically run through a medical professional
  • Self-care: Taking matters into your own hands through exercising, meditation, journaling, and breathing techniques is a great start for this support option
  • Support groups: There are many support groups out there with like-minded fathers going through similar circumstances. Facebook is a great place to start looking for them
  • Finding a coach: As an alternative or even supplemental to these other options, a coach can be an incredible support guide for taking you through a program designed to create your compelling future and bring back the person you know you are capable of being!

Supporting a Partner with Perinatal Mood Disorders

Being there for your partner through hell and high water is what builds the foundation for a lifelong relationship. Knowing your partner and recognizing changes in their behavior and well-being will help bring some awareness to a potential perinatal mood disorder developing.

Having the commitment that you made with your partner through pregnancy and raising a newborn, it is now your role to support them and provide emotional balance as they work through their overwhelming emotions. 

While you may only be able to scratch the surface by helping your partner, it is important to encourage and help them seek further help. Do not let things spiral out of control to the point where your family structure has completely shattered and the road to recovery is insurmountable. 

Acknowledge their feelings and validate what they are going through to bring awareness that they are not alone and with extra support can overcome what they are going through. 

Conclusion

Education, awareness, and more mental health screening are the proper tools to help address perinatal mood disorders in fathers. 

Through these steps, we can help reduce the stigma surrounding fathers as a machismo stoic figure and break down the walls for being vulnerable with their emotions.

All too often fathers go about their daily lives bottling up their challenging emotions creating an unhealthy environment for them and their family to thrive in.

If you believe you have been struggling with any of the symptoms talked about in this article, let me be your next step taking you on a journey through a signature program designed to bring back the love, confidence, and gratitude for your family. 

You do not have to continue hiding your emotions and feeling the way you do, as YOU ARE NOT ALONE and can break your old story and live the life you know you are capable of!

Addison Caproni

Enjoy a life of love, gratitude and confidence with your family

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