While many people can pick up on signs of postpartum depression in new mothers, the same signs are often mistaken for something else or missed entirely in fathers, a British study suggests, according to Reuters.
There needs to be greater awareness that the mental health disorder can occur in either parent for up to a year after the birth of a child, researchers say.
New fathers, like mothers, can grapple with anxiety, depression and traumas and also struggle to bond with their babies, said Mark Williams, founder of Fathers Reaching Out, a UK-based charity that promotes mental health awareness. Williams was not involved in the new study.
In fact, a previously published research review found that one in four fathers experienced postpartum depression within three to six months after a child was born.
Study leader Viren Swami, a professor of social psychology at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK, started researching the subject after he was diagnosed with the disorder after the birth of his son.
“Once I was diagnosed, I wanted to do more research into it and find out why so many people, like myself, think that men can’t get postnatal depression,” Swami told Reuters Health via phone.
Swami and his colleagues recruited 406 volunteers, ages 18 to 70, and had them read two vignettes describing almost identical situations where the subject suffered from postpartum depression, but one with a man and another with a woman.
Participants were initially asked if they believed anything was wrong with the subjects. Almost everyone - 97 percent — responded ‘yes’ for the vignette with the woman, and 79.5 percent responded ‘yes’ for the male.
Next, participants were asked what they thought was wrong. In the case of the mother, 90.1 percent correctly listed postpartum depression, postnatal depression or depression, while only 46.4 percent did so for the father.
Answers listing ‘baby blues’ as the reason were scored as incorrect because this kind of short-lived mood swing is different from postnatal or postpartum depression and usually resolves within a week after birth, Swami and his team write in the Journal of Mental Health.