It’s no secret that as much of a blessing newborns can be, they test the sanity and endurance of new parents everywhere. I’ll never forget the first screaming match my husband and I got into shortly after our daughter was born. I was rushing around the house probably getting a diaper or doing laundry or something and straight up missed the landing on the staircase and damn near almost killed myself before gripping the bookcase to break my fall. My husband, who was sitting on the couch putting our daughter who was merely a month old to sleep exploded in laughter before asking if I was OK. Me, embarrassed and probably hormonal, got defensive and proceeded to cuss him out labeling him insensitive and selfish. He calmly laid the baby down and said something slick about me “playing myself” before going into another room and slamming the door. By that evening we were laughing about the whole argument and agreed that we were both sleep deprived and adjusting to new parenthood and taking our frustrations out on the only people who specifically knew our struggle at that time: Eachother.
A new study is making an attempt to include new fathers in the postnatal depression conversation. Clearly fathers don’t physically carry a pregnancy or necessarily experience any significant hormonal changes affecting their behavior, but a new baby and the sleep deprivation, changes in routine and lifestyle that come with them may seriously affect dads as well. Scary Mommy recently highlighted the study from researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine who analyzed nearly 10,000 pediatric community health center visits by parents of newborns, infants, and toddlers. Mothers accompanied their newborns for a majority of wellness visits, but findings showed that 4.4% of fathers screened positive for depression, almost equal to the five percent of mothers who screened positive. Depression in either parent can seriously affect a child’s development, which is why it’s important that both new mothers and fathers be screened equally and offered emotional and mental support.
Jennifer Ashton, chief medical correspondent for ABC News, says there is definitely gender discrimination in the medical field and it can go both ways:
“We talk so much about gender discrimination in medicine and how women are often undiagnosed and undetected for the same disease or condition that men are. This is the opposite.”
“We don’t have our radar up to detect postpartum depression in men and we need to.”
She said a lot of discrimination stems from the stigma that accompanies mental illness which prevents patients from coming forward and providers from taking them seriously when they do:
“We need to drop the stigma with all mental illness, whoever it affects.”
“Obviously dads are just as vulnerable as moms are.”
Unfortunately, since the screening form that was used in the study was only filled out by one of the parents, if there were two parents present, the study may have missed even more depressed dads who are out there. Ashton also notes that while new moms internalize symptoms of depression. Depressed dads may act out in other ways:
“They escape through activities that you can see.”
Ashton says that new dads may express their depression through activities such as excessive drinking, gambling or angry outbursts. She encourages fathers who are dealing with these feelings to not be afraid to ask for help:
“A lot of dads go [to the] first visit with the mom to the obstetrician or midwife. Ask that healthcare provider, say, ‘What can I do?,'”
“You are not alone. You need to talk about this with someone.”