Depression In Men: A Dad’s Story of Male Postpartum Depression

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paternal postpartum depressionMen get depressed in the first year postpartum, too. Whether you call it paternal postpartum depression or something else, what we do know is that new fathers’ suffering can impact the health of their children just as the depression of new mothers can. It’s important for men to recognize when they have depression in the first year after the birth of their baby, and that something can be done about it. Here, counselor and dad Craig Mullins shares his own story of postpartum depression, and how he now works to help other men get through it at his Colorado counseling practice. 

As a husband, a father and a professional counselor specializing in working with men I was particularly moved by Postpartum Progress’ recent series from “Warrior Dads.” I found myself relating not just professionally, having heard similar stories of successes and failures, but relating personally as I recalled those early days and months often feeling like I was a flailing new dad.

We were so excited to be pregnant. Our friends and families showered us with congratulatory gestures and gifts beyond expectations. It was exciting and I was proud.

We got the typical cracks such as, “You better sleep now,” but they just rolled off my back. In all the hundreds of supportive comments only one cautioned us of the realities of how hard parenting a newborn can be … only one, and she was cutoff mid-sentence as she was scolded for speaking such words.

Even if every person were more up front about the potential pitfalls, I don’t think it would have mattered. I read The Expectant Father, I eagerly participated in birthing classes, and I read the research about how much better kids do when dad is present, nurturing and connected from infancy. I had even written papers and given presentations on the importance of a father’s involvement!

I represented the new generation of dads who’d participate willingly in caring for their infants. With bravado I embraced the impending change of fatherhood for I was sensitive, strong, nurturing, resourceful, and prepared … and within the first few moments of my daughter’s birth it quickly became apparent I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.

That first year left me feeling confused, exhausted, helpless, alone and trapped. I often wondered how this world was so populated and why anyone would chose to have more than one child! Yes, there were moments when I felt confident and thankful to be a dad, but for the first year the overarching feeling was that I had been duped into believing I could do this fatherhood thing well.

Becoming a parent is life changing and that change can be overwhelming. It can feel as if you’re in a new country where you don’t get the culture and you definitely don’t understand the language. It’s an uncharted world of diapers, burp cloths, nipple shields, lactation consultants, formula, and in many cases, inconceivable ear piercing cries demanding to be held, fed, burped, rocked, changed, swaddled, or just because. As in our case, sometimes that crying can go on for hours and hours and hours, no matter what you do.

After a particularly rough crying bout and ensuing fight with my wife, we were both so irritable and sleep deprived that I indignantly and angrily typed into Google, “I hate my baby.”

Forgive me my precious girl. Forgive me my wonderful wife.

Thinking such a thing brought me a lot of shame. However, it was out of this brokenness and honesty that a path was cleared for me, and I first learned that as many as 10.4% of new dads experience postpartum depression. That’s 1,000-1,400 new dads every day!

If so many dads were experiencing it then why didn’t I know about it? It’s well known that men tend to avoid talking about things that might make them appear weak, and our culture tends to discourage men from disclosing their feelings, but it is not well known that men tend to display depression in ways that are uniquely male. Many men don’t relate to the classic descriptors of depression such as feeling sad or crying. Cynicism, impulsiveness, indecisiveness, working constantly and losing interest in sex are just a few of the symptoms of male depression that may surprise you. Many health practitioners are unaware of the subtleties of male depression and it often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Depression can have a detrimental effect on marriages, child development and one’s overall well-being. Postpartum depression in dads tends to co-exist along side of, and follows, a mom’s postpartum depression. Therefore, when a woman is experiencing postpartum depression it is imperative that her partner be assessed.

After becoming more aware of paternal postpartum depression I began having discussions with fathers and many could identify. Then I had discussions with women and they could see the signs of depression in their husbands. It became clear that although they may not have known what to call it, many of them were living with paternal postpartum depression.

Thankfully, it is treatable. Many respond well to individual counseling with a person they trust and feel understood by. Many men respond well to antidepressants. Experiencing postpartum depression is not a sign of weakness and does not represent a character flaw. Rather, recognizing that what you’re experiencing is real and then seeking help for the sake of your well-being, your marriage, and your child demonstrates strength and courage…traits that are admirable in every man and woman.

Craig Mullins is a husband, a father, and a professional counselor in Colorado Springs who specializes in counseling for men and treating paternal postpartum depression.

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  1. I love this. I had some post-partum and though my husband didn’t, I suspected many men did and had no one to really talk to or understood what was happening. I wish more parents would be upfront. I agree that for most expectant parents, the talk of what it’s -really- like will go over their heads. But at least they’ll know they’re not alone and know who to turn to.

  2. this was my husband for our first, I didn’t get hit with PPD until our second 20m later. He had trouble coping with wanting to take care of me and make me happy and he couldn’t give the baby what she needed, she was nursing, and he was working all day. Its real and in our home.

    • Thank you for sharing that Cynthia! I think it's important for people to hear from families that have been through paternal postpartum depression.
      ~ K

  3. My husbands depression tipped the boat so to speak for our family. He refused any mental health treatment. Family members, especially his, were so focused on my very mild ppd that they did not see or accept his depression and violent behavior untill we were in severe crisis. After several emergecy hospitalizations due to suicide attempts and my incistance that he leave the home, family members were finaly listening to my concerns. Luckily my need for my husband to be living seperately from the children and I was backed by social workers and mental health proffessionals. The trauma of having to deal with my husbands crisis plus meet the needs of our 5 children left me with a good case of ptsd and ppd. I thank God for all of the family members , friends and caring profesionals who helped me survive and now thrive through this very dark chapter of our lives.

  4. Great information! I recently wrote a blog on Can Men Suffer from Postpartum Depression? I knew it could happen but it was interesting to learn that their was actually research in determining that men do experience postpartum depression. If you are interested, check out the blog I wrote. Here is the link: http://www.jennifermoyer.com/2012/can-men-suffer-from-postpartum-depression
    Thanks for always sharing such great information on your blog.
    ~Jennifer~

  5. So glad to see more fathers’ stories being shared. We need to talk about this side of it too!

  6. Pingback: Paternal Depression - help for dads suffering | Not Just About Wee

  7. You better be careful with this article. Feminists will find it and rip it to shreds. Men are not an important part of society.

    • You moron. Feminist here: it’s great to see men’s mental health being acknowledged. Equality between the sexes can only happen when both sides are treated with respect.

  8. Has anyone experienced or heard of a man suffering ppd when the child is older, say 15? As my son has gotten older he naturally has become more independent and thus does much less with me. This has been hard to handle the past few years. All the material I have read deals with dads of very young children.

  9. This is me. I have had these thoughts, i was under the impression that I was alone. I’m lying here in bed at 3:30 in the afternoon on a Saturday after not being able to sleep all night because my wife brought up having a second child somewhere down the line. I am currently seeking help. Thank you for writing this, it has made me feel a little less alone.