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Daddy’s got the baby blues

39% new fathers in UAE suffer from paternal post-natal depression

Image Credit: Seyyed Llata / Gulf News

Dubai:  Men too suffer from the baby blues. Does that sound hard to believe? While the focus for decades has been on many new mothers undergoing post-natal depression, what has gone quite unnoticed is that fathers too can experience this condition. 

A survey conducted by the Priory Wellbeing Centre, UAE, indicates that over 39 per cent of new fathers suffered from post-natal depression. The survey was conducted on 1,002 parents of children under 18, of whom 452 were men.

Researchers elsewhere too point out that one in 10 fathers suffer from post-natal depression, a figure that has been verified globally. And given that men feel stigmatised for owning up to this emotional problem, it means that the incidence is likely to be more widespread than the figures suggest.

Maartje Suijskens, Counselling Psychologist at The Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai, explains what this condition in itself means : “Postpartum  or post-natal depression is a complex and challenging disorder that often takes women or men and their families by surprise, and can have tremendous individual and familial consequences. It is a type of mood disorder and it can affect both sexes. Generally, depression is triggered by emotional and stressful life events and having a baby can be an unsettling and challenging experience.”

 It is a type of mood disorder and it can affect both sexes. Generally, depression is set off by emotional, stressful events and having a baby can be an unsettling experience.”

 - Maartje Suijskens | Counselling psychologist 

Dr Rose Logan, clinical psychologist at the Light House  Arabia thinks it is heartening that the issue of male post-natal depression is being discussed in public at all. “I am not sure that I have seen an increase in men presenting themselves for individual treatment. However, never before have we had such an open dialogue on men’s mental health and although we are not there yet, I think many men feel more able to speak out about their emotional experiences. As a result, terms such as paternal post-natal depression have come into use and our understanding of the impact of parenthood for men has increased. I also think that the open dialogue has led to more men seeking support and information prior to their baby’s birth.”

 Never before have we had such an open dialogue on men’s mental health and although we are not there yet, I think many men feel more able to speak out about emotional experiences.”

 - Dr Rose Logan | Clinical psychologist 

While post natal depression in women is much better understood, in men, the condition needs more insight, say experts.

It’s man’s world, too

While no specific large scale study has been carried out on fathers in the UAE, Suijskens thinks there might be a  good incidence of PPND in UAE which is yet to be accounted for. “The pressure on dads here is bigger. Men who need to adapt to the new duty of parenthood while continuing in their job are under a lot of stress. The work pressure in this region is enormous. Performing well and keeping your job is of major importance, particularly for men who are required to provide for the family. At the same time, there is less support from their family, as they live abroad, which increases the pressure on the partner and therefore increases the risk of developing paternal post-natal depression,” says Dr Suijskens.

For men, although it may not be a case of a hormonal drain as it is with women generally speaking, many factors psychological, financial as well as familial, are the triggers, say these experts. 

The birth of joy ... and resentment

Till the birth of the baby, the man is the centre of attraction in his wife’s life.  If  he participates in the delivery process and watches his wife undergo the pain during labour, there can be, potentially, a build-up of some resentment in him as the realisation dawns that the just arrived tiny bundle of joy has  displaced his position in the family home and hijacked everybody’s attention. In addition, the responsibility of fatherhood, the anxiety of added expenditure, the insecurity of failure, any job stress coupled with sleepless nights, can all can add on to trigger a full on paternal post natal depression in a new dad, the experts say.

According to Dr Logan, what distinguishes a normal period of adjustment, which can have mood swings, from post-natal depression is the “intensity and impact” of the moods.

More on paternal post-natal depression:

•  Post-natal depression: Men vs women
•  What to look out for in men’s post-natal depression
•  Fathers share their anxiety after baby’s birth

“Post-natal depression is likely to have an impact on how an individual is functioning in a range of areas including parenting, work, relationships, engaging with other interests, and how they are taking care of themselves. There may be in an increase in negative coping behaviours such as consuming more food or alcohol or maybe a loss of appetite and a withdrawal from social situations. Sleep may impacted and of course there may be symptoms such as tearfulness, low mood and irritability,” Dr Logan said.

Another important consideration for men following the birth of a new child is how they manage the post-maternity leave period, says Suijskens. In families with two ambitious and career-driven parents, there can be an unsettling period following the mother’s return to work. If both have a huge commitment to work and the baby is with a carer, who can they call upon, for example, when the baby is ill or for other important events/milestones in their child’s life?

This pressure can cause anxiety and depression in fathers, as well as feelings of isolation and a lack of control as they don’t want to let their work or family down, she said.

 New fathers might be aware of the fact that they are not feeling well, but they will not link it to a possible PPND, therefore, most men will not seek treatment for this condition.”

Changing roles of men

Suijskens also points to the changing role of fathers. Where the father once used to feel the sole responsibility of providing for the family financially, he is now also concerned with its emotional wellbeing. PND in men may be more prevalent now largely because this generation of fathers is feeling the same psychological, social, and economic stressors that some mothers have long experienced. Unfortunately, it is not often recognized in fathers, she said.

“There is also not enough public awareness about the possibility that men can suffer from PND as well as women. New fathers might be aware of the fact that they are not feeling well, but they will not link it to a possible PPND, therefore most men will not seek treatment for this condition. We are calling for greater psychological education around this area so that more men with PND recognize their symptoms and seek early diagnosis and treatment in specialized centers.”

Women and post-natal depression

The emotional changes in new mums are often connected to hormonal changes. The hormones during pregnancy and after delivery can make women more vulnerable to mental illnesses like depression. It’s important to highlight that hormones are not the single cause of post-partum depression, otherwise every woman would suffer a form of depression after giving birth.

Adoptive parents are also vulnerable to developing post-natal depression without the hormones. In most cases, it is the combination of being in a vulnerable physiological state (hormones) and going through a new and life changing situation that can cause psychological imbalance.

So while, in  women,  PND get it due to a combination of factors that can be blamed on the estrogen exhaustion, the trauma of a difficult birth, the overwhelming responsibilities of breast feeding a baby among other tedious jobs that motherhood brings on, men are also affected by the stressful changes in their lives brought on by parenthood.

Case Study

“Nigel was 27 when he got married to Jessica. Within two years, the happy couple had two babies, Sarah and Luke, and things seemed to be moving quickly towards their ‘ideal’ family situation. When Sarah was born, Nigel felt reasonably relaxed - it was a new experience and Jessica was happy and enjoying creating the perfect family environment whilst pregnant. However, when Luke was born, Nigel really started to feel the pressure.

He had suddenly gone from being single and carefree to having dependents both financially and emotionally. Before the second child came along, he could leave for work early and return late, but now he needed to provide much more help at home, which he felt was greatly affecting his work.

He was worried that he was in a permanent state of limbo – neither succeeding at work nor at being the family man he wanted to be.

This pressure started to affect his sleep, his mood and ultimately his performance in these two very important areas of his life. It was only when he finally recognised that he was feeling low that he sought help and support.”

—As narrated by Dr Rose Logan, from her case files.