Depression & Anxiety in New Dads
Crying baby. Poopy diapers and blowouts. Sleepless nights blurring into the next day. Feeling overwhelmed and incompetent. Congratulations, you’re a new parent! Countless studies have shown the existence of perinatal depression and anxiety in new moms. But recent research has indicated new dads may also experience similar mental health concerns. Approximately 10% of new dads experience postpartum depression and up to 18% experience an anxiety disorder (Paulson & Bazemore, 2010; Leach, et al., 2016). Despite research beginning to support and acknowledge men’s struggle with perinatal anxiety and depression, societal norms have not yet caught up. In essence, men suffering with anxiety and depression are being told that their feelings are not real or valid. As men often already struggle to talk about and express their emotions due to the societal stigma of looking weak, this only reinforces the likelihood of avoidance and silence. Combine lack of sleep, financial stressors, traditional expectations for the role of a new father, and feelings of inadequacy, and you have an environment ripe for poor mental health and marital strain.
Dads Need Help, Too
So what should you do if you find yourself in this situation? Asking a family member or trusted friend to watch the baby while you get some extra rest or get out of the house for a couple hours is a great place to start. This can help improve mood, calm our distressed minds, and create space for determining how to proceed to get the necessary longer-term support that is needed. This may include getting involved in groups for new parents. Often new parents overlook the immense pressure and feelings of isolation that can come with a new baby. Connecting with others going through similar situations provides opportunity for our feelings to be heard, understood, and validated. This reassurance that we’re not the only ones struggling can help put our situation into perspective.
Reassessing child care needs is also important. Enlisting help from family, friends, and babysitters does not mean you are a bad parent. As men we often struggle to ask for help or think we can do it on our own if we just work harder. Unfortunately, that instinct is counterintuitive and will only exhaust you even more quickly. Additionally, if your mood remains low and your sleep sporadic and interrupted, scheduling an assessment with a therapist may help get you back on track. Also seeing your primary care physician for a check-up is an option and sometimes short-term medication can aid in the improvement of mood and sleep as you adjust to dad life.
Feel Your Feelings, Dad
Whether or not you decide to sit down with a therapist, it’s critical for new dads to acknowledge the reality of the emotions they may be feeling. It’s ok to feel scared, overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed about the many sudden changes in your home life. Through acceptance of your new reality and identity as a father, you can begin to readjust expectations for yourself and family.
If you’re a new dad struggling to adjust to parent life, feel free to contact me HERE to schedule an appointment.