We've been hearing more in recent years about the risk of postpartum depression in mothers. But there's another population that's been left out: fathers.
About 10 percent of men experience pre- or postpartum depression, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That's twice the normal rate for the general population of men.
Researchers from the Eastern Virginia Medical School examined studies conducted over 20 years that included more than 28,000 men. They found that men are most likely to be depressed when their babies are between three and six months old, or if the mothers are experiencing depression.
Key symptoms of depression are the same for men and women, says Dr. Shona Vas, a clinical psychiatrist and assistant professor at University of Chicago. These include feeling sad most of the day for more than two weeks, and losing interest in what previously were pleasurable activities. Other signs include trouble sleeping, a change in eating habits or feelings of guilt or hopelessness.
But while symptoms are the same, men aren't as educated about the prevalence of depression in fathers and may feel embarrassed to admit their feelings.
"We need to normalize it, and tell people that depression is a very natural response to the stress of a new baby," Vas says. When broaching the subject with men, she says, "it can help to correlate it with a behavior, such as, 'You're not sleeping. When was the last time you went to the gym?'"
Couples need to be particularly supportive of each other, keeping communication open and seeking help from family, friends or a babysitter to find moments to relax together, Vas says.
Lisa Applegate is a freelance writer and mom of one living in Chicago.
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