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Male post-natal depression.

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Post-natal depression is an issue which is usually associated with women for obvious reasons - after all men don’t go through pregnancy and childbirth. The birth of a child can, however, be emotionally challenging for both parents.  A 2017 study of 447 fathers in Sweden found that 28% of them had at least mild symptoms of depression.  The National Child Birth Trust in the UK estimates that as many as 1 in 3 fathers in the UK are concerned about their mental health following the birth of their child.

These statistics are not surprising when we acknowledge that fathers face the same dilemmas as mothers in that they often struggle to combine parenthood and working. Lack of sleep and a strained relationship with a partner can all contribute to feeling inadequate, irritable and anxious.  New fathers may experience difficulty sleeping as well as more severe symptoms of psychological distress such as having obsessive fears about a baby’s health or wellbeing, irrational thoughts and hostility towards a partner or newborn baby. Such symptoms may lead fathers to negative coping strategies such as drinking to excess or working too hard and staying away from home. 

Men can sometimes feel uncomfortable about opening up about their feelings and it is therefore important that when help is sought, medical professionals respond in a positive and proactive way providing practical and emotional support to fathers who may be experiencing stress and trauma associated with childbirth and having a new baby.

Seeking from a GP will be the first port of call for many fathers.  A GP may initially do some health checks and blood tests to rule out possible physical causes that could affect mood, such as an underactive thyroid.   A GP should consider the symptoms presented by the individual carefully  and consider a diagnosis of depression.

Treatments for depression vary. Initial suggested treatment may include self-help methods such as online cognitive behavioural therapy or a local self-help group.  A GP should arrange a follow up appointment with the individual at which a review of the situation can be considered.  If depression doesn't improve after a few weeks of trying self-help strategies, a GP should recommend other treatments including a course of anti-depressants.

Severe paternal depression will require help from mental health professionals such as community psychiatric nurses, psychologists, or psychiatrists. They may be able to  provide more intensive talking therapies, such as psychotherapy, alongside medication and CBT.

Recent media coverage has highlighted the extent to which mental health problems can impact upon all members of society. It is a positive step that we are all being encouraged to discuss feelings and experiences. It is to be hoped that there will be adequate resources deployed to ensure that help is available for those in need.