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10th Mar 2019

Postnatal depression in men is more common than you think – and it often goes unrecognised

Here's what you should know.

Trine Jensen-Burke

According to the HSE, postnatal depression affects as many as one in six new mothers, although some experts believe the real number is higher than this estimate.

But many are unaware that this can also affect new fathers – and often, because so much of the focus is on the new mum, this can go unrecognised and undiagnosed.

In an effort to combat this, in the UK, the NHS in the UK last year announced that it will offer mental health screening to the partners of new mothers who themselves are depressed.

One of the main problems, according to the UK’s National Childbirth Trust (NCT), is the peak time for postnatal depression in men is three to six months after the birth, meaning it is less likely to be picked up by healthare professionals and even family as postnatal depression.

To help recognise the symptoms, here are nine things the NCT says we need to know about dads and postnatal depression:

1. Dads can experience depression in the first year after birth

The number of men who become depressed in the first year after becoming a dad is double that of the general population . First time dads are particularly vulnerable . One in ten dads-to-be will also become depressed during their partner’s pregnancy .

2. Postnatal depression in men often goes undiagnosed

The peak time for postnatal depression in men is three to six months after the birth . As with postnatal depression in mums, it often goes undiagnosed. The symptoms can look a lot like the everyday stresses of having a newborn.

3. Hormonal changes can play a role

Just as with mums, changes in hormones might make postnatal depression in dads more likely. Hormones including testosterone, oestrogen, cortisol, vasopressin and prolactin may change in dads during the period after their babies arrive .

4. Postnatal depression in dads is more likely if there is maternal postnatal depression too

If one of you is experiencing emotional or mental health difficulties, it’s more likely that the other is too. Of fathers with depressed partners, 24 to 50 per cent experience depression themselves .

5. A range of factors can make dads more likely to get postnatal depression

Dads who are under 25 are more likely to go through postnatal depression than their older counterparts. Yet age isn’t the only risk factor for postnatal depression in men. Other major risk factors include a history of depression and anxiety; financial pressures, and evidence also shows that not being in a relationship with the child’s mother .

Other factors that make postnatal depression in men more likely include: sleeping or crying issues with the baby; drug abuse or dependence; and feeling unsupported by their partners . However, the cause and effect is unclear so these factors might not necessarily be the direct cause of mental health difficulties.

6. Postnatal depression in dads can show itself in different ways

Symptoms can include:

  • fear, confusion, helplessness and uncertainty about the future
  • withdrawal from family life, work and social situations
  • indecisiveness
  • frustration, irritability, cynicism and anger
  • marital conflict
  • partner violence
  • negative parenting behaviours
  • alcohol and drug use
  • insomnia
  • physical symptoms like indigestion, changes in appetite and weight, diarrhoea, constipation, headaches, toothaches and nausea.

7. Postnatal depression in dads can take its toll on their relationships

Postnatal depression in dads canaffect their relationship with the baby’s mother. It can also affect the relationship they have with their child. They may play and engage less with their children and talk more negatively about and to them. They may sing and read less to their children, and may discipline them more harshly.

8. Postnatal depression in dads can have an impact on the development of their child

Dads’ depression is associated with emotional, social and behavioural problems as well as developmental delay in their children . The association is stronger when a father experiences antenatal as well as postnatal depression, and when his symptoms are particularly severe. There is also a stronger association when mum also has mental health problems .

9. Postnatal depression in dads is treated the same as postnatal depression in mums

The treatment of paternal postnatal depression is in its early stages. Currently, the options for treatment are the same as for mothers with psychotropic medication and/or therapy. Relationship counselling may also be useful .