We’re starting to understand that postpartum depression is real and nothing to laugh about. Even the ABC TV show “Black-ish” handled it well recently — yes, with some laughter, but with a real conversation about what can happen when the hormones shift after birth.
Now a study published by U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health seems to indicate that men also can become depressed after fatherhood, and it might have to do with their testosterone levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also indicates that depression after fatherhood happens in about 4 percent of men, whereas with women it’s 10 percent to 12 percent.
Dr. Stephen Strakowski, a psychiatrist for Seton Healthcare Family and the chair of psychiatry at University of Texas Dell Medical School, says, “There’s absolutely a dramatic difference between what we mean when we say postpartum depression for men and postpartum depression for women, which has a major biological component.”
With men, there isn’t the dramatic hormonal shift that they experience after birth, yet the study that looked at men’s testosterone levels post-baby and depression seemed to indicate that those fathers who were experiencing depression after the birth of their child also were more likely to have low testosterone levels.
What’s not clear is what came first. The low testosterone level, which led to the depression when the baby came, or the depression or baby lowering the testosterone level.
That study, which only surveyed 149 couples, also found a different link between testosterone and postpartum depression. Women whose partners had high testosterone levels were more likely to have postpartum depression than those whose partners had normal levels. Could the stress of having a partner with postpartum depression raise a man’s testosterone? Or is there something about his testosterone level that makes it more likely for her to have postpartum depression?
What’s clear from this study is that it raises more questions than it answers.
Yet there is something about having a new baby in the house that can lead to the family, not just mom, experiencing depression. Strakowski reminds us that babies often come with a lack of sleep and stress. All of that can feed depression, especially for a person who has had episodes of depression previously.
“In women, we absolutely need to worry about postpartum depression. It’s very common and very commonly missed,” Strakowski says.
Gynecologists often become the first line of defense at that first post-baby follow up visit. Some now are screening for depression, but more should talk to their patients about warning signs.
“It’s imminently treatable,” he says.
While we’re often not catching postpartum depression in women, we need to be looking for signs of depression in new fathers, too. “Having a depressed father is also not helpful to the family system,” Strakowski says.
Look for these warning signs:
- Feeling down
- A loss of interest in things you normally enjoy
- Being tired (beyond what seems normal for having a new baby)
- Having trouble concentrating
- Having trouble sleeping (and not because of the baby)
- Low energy
- Changes in appetite
- Weight changes
- Any suicidal thoughts
- Physical pain such as back pain, neck pain, headache, stomach ache
- Desire to harm another person
If you or someone you know seems to have one or more of these symptoms, get help by making an appointment with your health care professional.