Have you ever heard of postpartum depression in men or a non-gestational parent? Despite the fact that people who don’t grow and birth a baby don’t have the same hormonal shifts as pregnant and birthing people, the non-gestational parent experiences hormonal changes—not to mention huge life changes—and can also get postpartum depression. In this post, we’ll discuss the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression in men, as well as treatment options.
“Postpartum depression (PPD) is often defined as an episode of major depressive disorder (MDD) occurring soon after the birth of a child. It is frequently reported in mothers but can also occur in fathers,” writes psychiatrist Jonathan Scarff in the journal Innovations in clinical neuroscience in 2019.  Scarff goes on to explain that there are not defined diagnostic criteria for PPD in men, but that mental health professionals may still diagnose it based on the criteria for a major depressive episode and on a clinical tool, the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, which is commonly used in women.
Signs and Symptoms
Studies have shown that postpartum depression happens in between 10 and 25 percent of men after the birth of a child—and those numbers are higher if the birthing parent also has postpartum depression. [2, 3] The most common symptoms in men are an increase in conflict (often with the mother or birthing parent), frustration, anger, and irritability. Some men with PPD may cope with excessive work or alcohol and drug use. Loss of interest in things you previously enjoyed—spending time with friends and family, hobbies, and sex—and concerns about productivity are also possible. And physical symptoms, including headaches, stomachaches, pain, fatigue, and weight gain or loss, can also indicate postpartum depression.
If none of these specific symptoms resonate, but you or your partner don’t feel like yourself or themselves, have trouble concentrating, feel discouraged or sad, have an increase in worrying, and/or experience thoughts of suicide (with or without intent), postpartum depression is still a possibility. The time to seek help is sooner, rather than later. Seeing a therapist who specializes in postpartum depression is a good step, as well as talking to your primary care provider about your symptoms. Often your doctor or nurse practitioner can discuss the possibility of management of your mood with medication, such as antidepressants, and refer you to a psychiatrist if you need more complex medication support.
Other things that can help support your mental health are:
Sleep: it can be so tough to sleep with a new baby in the house, especially if you’re trying to support your partner and become a family with your infant. You can take shifts for sleeping, so that either you or your partner is up with baby (you both don’t have to be) or ask for help from family and friends to catch a nap sometime during the day. And if it’s within your means, consider hiring a night nurse or postpartum doula who can help overnight.
Take time off: If your employer offers parental leave, figure out how you can qualify. Even if non-gestational parents aren’t eligible for paid parental leave, you might qualify for family leave under the Family Medical Leave Act in the United States or be able to use vacation time to be home with your family after baby is born.
Exercise: it’s not always easy to fit in, but taking a walk—perhaps while pushing baby in the stroller—or doing a quick workout video can work wonders for your mood. If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated, try to channel that into some physical activity and see how you feel.
Share your feelings: there is a lot of societal nonsense out there that will make you think that it’s your job to protect and provide for your family, and if you can’t do that flawlessly, then you’re doing something wrong. That is all a lie! Men have mental health challenges and deserve support, just as much as anyone. You don’t have to suffer, and it’s okay to speak about how you’re doing with the people you love. Taking care of yourself is one way to ensure that you’re able to take care of them, too.
- Scarff J. R. (2019). “Postpartum Depression in Men.” Innovations in clinical neuroscience.
- Goodman J. H. (2004). “Paternal postpartum depression, its relationship to maternal postpartum depression, and implications for family health.” Journal of advanced nursing.
- Paulson J.F. and S.D. Bazemore. (2010). “Prenatal and Postpartum Depression in Fathers and Its Association With Maternal Depression: A Meta-analysis.”