Not just the moms: even new dads get postpartum anxiety and depression
When new parents understand that PPD isn’t strictly a female-hormone issue, they can take decisive steps to put Dad on the fast-track to recovery
As a mom-to-be’s body starts to prepare for impending birth, unknown to most, the dad’s body begins to adjust too.
In the final trimester, the dad’s testosterone level (men’s primary sex hormone) decreases, while other hormones kick it up a notch. The ongoing hormonal changes, scientists surmise, are supposed to equip Dad for parenthood, by instilling a deeper capacity for emotional bonding and empathy for others’ needs.
But these hormonal changes also set Dad up for postpartum depression (PPD).
An estimated one out of ten dads suffer from PPD, with up to 18% of dads developing a clinically significant anxiety disorder during the pregnancy or in the baby’s first year. Depression rates can even climb up to 25% three to six months after the birth!
Shame and fear
In the Philippines, talk of male PPD usually falls on deaf ears. It wasn’t that long ago that comedian Joey de Leon called depression “gawa-gawa” and “nagpapasosyal lang”.
Most Filipino men strongly believe that depression should just be ignored or suffered in silence, fearing that seeking help makes them look weak or unmanly. A recent study on PPD in Filipino men found the difference between the male and female experience: “the new father is less vocal and by not showing it receives less social support.”
Filipino family-centered thinking, too, plays a part in the Filipino silence over depression. While depression is seen as shameful in general society, “for Filipinos, that shame is doubled,” explains E.J.R. David, a Filipino-American psychologist at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. “Not only do we not want to shame ourselves, we don't want to bring shame to our family.”
Finally, people find it hard to believe that men suffer from PPD specifically, because of “the misconception that PPD is caused solely by a hormonal problem related to the act of giving birth,” explains Postpartum Progress’ Katherine Stone.
This belief disregards the external risk factors that both mom and dad share post-birth—the sleep deprivation, the life disruption, the worry about baby and mom’s health, the stress from pushy relatives. Given these shared factors, Stone asks, “Why wouldn't [men] be susceptible?”
From mental illness to deadly disease
Left untreated, PPD can run the same risk as any depressive episode: turning what is a treatable mental condition into a fatal disease. The suicide rate for men is 1.4 times that of women in the Philippines, potentially caused by the stigma that male depression still suffers in our country.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to come to that. When dads (and moms too) understand that PPD isn’t strictly a female-hormone issue, they can take decisive steps to alleviate the problem and put Dad on the fast-track to recovery.
1. Heed the warning signs
Watch if Dad begins to suffer some of the classic signs of mental illness: changes in sleep or appetite; apathy; mood changes; and decline in personal care, among others.
Don’t expect these things to unfold on a schedule—while PPD in men peaks between three to six months after birth, men may find their PPD developing insidiously over the course of a year!
A study on PPD in new Filipino fathers found that beyond the usual symptoms of depression, men sometimes turn to harmful coping mechanisms, like drugs and alcohol. Beyond substance abuse, men may also display addictive behavior, like video games and gambling, and manifest physical illnesses like stomach upset and headaches.
2. Seek expert care
Emphasis on “expert”: Filipino laymen, on average, simply do not have the right experience or mindset to help men cope with depression, much less little-understood male PPD. You may be advised by well-meaning friends to go to church more often, or be told that depression isn’t real (Joey de Leon again)—all advice that can do more harm than good.
A mental health professional, on the other hand, treats depression properly—as a serious medical issue that calls for professional, evidence-based help. A psychologist may start psychological testing, and recommend psychotherapy. A psychiatrist, on the other hand, may prescribe medication management for depression.
Embarrassed? You don’t need to be. Medical professionals will not blab about your issues, or be judgmental—they’ve seen it before, and will approach your issue with empathy rather than shame.
If you don’t know where to start, Silakbo has a comprehensive list of mental health professionals and institutions you can turn to for help.
3. Take mental health breaks
You’ve got a new baby in the house—focus on the happy new addition instead of resorting to addictive behavior like online gaming.
Go offline, avoid the distractions of social media and its constant flurry of scaremongering and stress. You’ll feel better almost immediately, when you’re not hate-reading your social feed to scratch your mental sore spots.
4. Remember you’re not an island
Beyond your new baby, take the time to really reconnect with your wife at this time, who is also going through a stressful time of her own. Widen your base of support to include family and friends, who will probably appreciate hearing from you and offer you support in this stressful time.
If you feel trapped in a bubble with your partner and new baby, set up video conferencing calls with your loved ones so you can unburden yourself—take the space you need to discuss your feelings and experiences with people who understand you and love you as you are, PPD or not.
5. Care for your body
Ample sleep, a healthy diet, and regular exercise can do wonders in alleviating the symptoms of male PPD. Regular exercise isn’t just good for your body, it can also help ease depression or anxiety.
There may be a link between diet and depression—an experiment found that a Mediterranean-style diet helped to significantly reduce symptoms of depression, with depression scores recovering from "down” to "normal". Maybe this is also the right time to drop coffee or tea, as the caffeine in those drinks can exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
You’re a new dad, and you’re the world to your partner and the new baby. If male PPD strikes after you bring the baby home, take heart—by using the resources and tips we’ve listed here, you don’t have to suffer in silence anymore.
• Business World, Minding the gap in Philippines’ mental health, November 30, 2017
• IAFOR, Mental Health Needs of Depressed New Filipino Fathers, 2020
• ICNS, Postpartum Depression in Men, May–June 2019
• Interaksyon, Depression isn’t ‘gawa-gawa lang’; Joey de Leon apologizes, October 6, 2017
• JAMA Network, Prenatal and Postpartum Depression in Fathers and Its Association With Maternal Depression, May 19, 2010
• JAMA, Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression, 2010 May 19
• Journal of Affective Disorders, Prevalence and course of anxiety disorders (and symptom levels) in men across the perinatal period, 15 January 2016
• Mayo Clinic, Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms, 2021
• Mental Health PH, Manning Up: Freedom from Patriarchy, June 20, 2021
• NIMH, Men and Mental Health, 2021
• NPR, Changing Your Diet Can Help Tamp Down Depression, Boost Mood, October 9, 2019
• NPR, How I Learned To Talk To My Filipino Mom About My Mental Health, November 22, 2018
• Postpartum Progress, Why People Don’t Believe That Postpartum Depression Exists Among Dads, 2010
• PSYCOM, Oh Baby: Postpartum Depression in Men is Real, Science Says, Dec 29, 2020
• Silakbo, COVID-19 Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in the Philippines, 2021
About The Writer
Mike is an experienced travel, technology and lifestyle writer who's been covering Southeast Asia for Tripsavvy since 2007, and contributed to magazines and business websites since the 1990s. Some of his travel work can be found in inflight magazines for Cebu Pacific and TigerAir; his business/tech/finance writing can be found on the sites of his corporate clients from the Philippines, Singapore and Hong Kong.
A dad of a middle schooler, Mike is not afraid to admit he’s just bumbling along the fatherhood track as he goes along.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are his/her own, and does not state or reflect those of Wyeth Nutrition and its principals.