Pregnancy and the first year of parenthood (perinatal period) can be both an exciting and challenging time as it brings about new and different responsibilities. Research has shown that 1 in 20 men experience depression during pregnancy (antenatal), while 1 in 10 new fathers experience depression in the year that follows the birth of their new baby (postnatal). Anxiety is thought to occur at the same rate as depression and anxiety as it often occurs at the same time. There is lots of support now available for fathers and the earlier help is sought the better the outcome for both.
Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression
Experiencing some anxiety and depression about the arrival of a new baby is common, but for some men the approaching responsibility of fatherhood brings unexpected thoughts and feelings. This can often interfere with the joy of becoming a father. Depression is often described as being really sad, and characterised by crying and low mood. Often anxiety and depression can result in agitation, feeling “wound up” and unable to relax. Some people may have outbursts of anger (which are out of character), and then lead to additional feelings of shame and guilt. It is important not to ignore any such changes in thoughts, feelings or behaviours as they may only get worse. As a general guide if you experience any signs and symptoms for longer than two weeks then it may be helpful to speak to a medical or mental health professional.
Signs and symptoms of perinatal anxiety and depression:
- Constant headache and physical stress levels (e.g. muscle tension)
- Constant tiredness or feeling exhausted
- Fear of being able to care for the baby
- Decreased interest in sex or intimacy
- Feelings of isolation
- Changes in appetite
- Sleep problems (unrelated to the baby’s sleep)
- Irritability, anger or moodiness
- Emotional withdrawal from your partner, baby, family, and friends
- Use of alcohol or drugs to cope
- Thoughts of suicide or death
What factors may contribute to perinatal anxiety and depression?
There are many factors which may contribute to parents developing perinatal anxiety or depression, these include:
- History of anxiety and depression
- Childhood trauma or family conflict
- Sleep deprivation
- Relationship problems and stresses
- Lack of available support networks
- Supporting a partner with perinatal anxiety or depression
If you notice that you have had some of the signs and symptoms of perinatal anxiety of depression for longer than two weeks then it may be helpful to seek support from a medical or mental health professional.
PANDA: Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia
Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
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Boyce et. al. First-Time Fathers’ Study: psychological distress in expectant fathers during pregnancy. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 2007; 41:718 725
Condon, J.T. et. al. The First-Time Fathers Study: a prospective study of the mental health and wellbeing of men during the transition to parenthood. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 2004; 38:56-64.
Condon, J., 2006. What about dad? Psychosocial and mental health issues for new fathers. Australian Family Physician, 35, 690–692.