We’ve heard a lot about post-partum depression in new moms. But the stresses on a new father can be just as tough, and for many men, there is the added pressure of feeling that they must suffer in silence.
Many men have been brought up with the message, unspoken or not, that it’s not manly to cry or to show their softer emotions. When a new child is born, this can be especially tough – fathers are expected to be the emotional support to their partners, as well as to be strong themselves. The take-home message might be to bury their feelings, to “suck it up.”
Common Stressors On New Dads
When a new baby comes home, sleep is at a premium, causing everyone's tempers to fray. There is also a change in hormones to contend with. Even in men, a decrease in testosterone, perhaps due to the increased attention given to a baby, peaks between three to six months and can add to the stress of bringing home the baby.
We also know that it’s no longer "Leave It To Beaver" parenting in the U.S. There is a very real expectation that a father should be contributing both inside and outside the home, which can mean that even after a full day of working, there are still dishes to be done, bottles to be cooked, and bottoms to be wiped.
In addition, when the family makes the decision for the mother to stay home, a father may be coming to terms with being the primary breadwinner, which may not be entirely pleasant. Even if mom is still working outside the home, the pressure of supporting a child may be intense. It may feel as if there is no margin for error in a career anymore.
Perhaps, too, a father may feel that they no longer have the emotional or physical intimacy that they once had with their partners. A father may feel usurped by the presence of the little one, and then may feel guilty for even having those thoughts.
All of this can contribute to what we now know are Daddy Doldrums. It’s estimated that as many as one in ten men may experience an overall depression after the birth of a child. That’s a lot!
This may be the first time you have had to face the dark demon of depression, or it may be a resurgence from the past. However it strikes, it can affect your social life, your work life, and your home life, and needs to be taken seriously.
How Do You Know If You’re Depressed?
Depression is not just a “bad day” or even a few bad days. It also does not mean that you have had negative thoughts about your partner or the baby; most everyone has some thoughts that aren’t fit to print. Depression is instead characterized by its intensity and duration: if you are still having thoughts like the below, and they have lasted more than two weeks, then you may be depressed.
- Do you feel as if your emotions are out of control?
- Do you feel more angry than you used to? Have you felt more anger over the past week than you have previously?
- Do you feel as if everything you do lately requires effort?
- Do you feel lonely more often than normal?
- Have you had problems sleeping, either falling asleep or waking too often?
- Do you feel as if life is just not as enjoyable lately?
- Have you felt hopeless about the future?
- Have you had any recent changes in your habits? Eating more or less than usual? Gambling more? Drinking more?
- Do you feel as if you don’t understand the fuss of a new baby? Do you feel like you don’t find any joy in taking care of the baby?
The great news is that learning how to see your life differently (and not in a “Stuart Smalley” kind of way), can alleviate depression, and with quick results. Even better, learning how to change your thoughts can help to prevent future depression, giving you the support you need to become more joyful today and in the future.
Therapists trained in cognitive behavioral therapy teach these practices. At Nassau Guidance, we offer the space for a new dad to talk about feelings and emotions that you may think no one else wants to hear, without judgment, and with a compassionate and open heart. We help you to find your way not just back to the “old” you, but to a new you – someone who can find joy and hope, despite the curveballs life throws.
- Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman, Ph.D. (contains a more detailed depression test, as well as methods to change thinking patterns)