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Postpartum Depression: Diagnosis and Treatment
Postpartum Depression: Diagnosis and Treatment

Section 14
Paternal Postpartum Depression

CEU Question 14 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Depression
Psychology CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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In the last section, we discussed Bipolar Disorder.

In this section, we will discuss postpartum dads.  This will include dads and depression and the "Ten reassurances and advice" technique.

♦ Dads and Depression
First, let’s discuss dads and depression.  The more I see and learn about depression both during pregnancy and in the postpartum period, the more I am becoming sensitized to the needs of postpartum dads.  I now realize that fathers, too, can suffer postpartum depression.  Particularly if a man has a family history of depression, this is a time of vulnerability for him, just as it is for a woman, and as it was for Wade, age 35.

When Wade’s wife, Vanessa, became pregnant, both she and Wade were ecstatic, and even though Vanessa suffered a period of postpartum depression, they had a great deal of help from their families and things were going well.  I knew Wade because he often accompanied Vanessa to her appointments with me, and after a time I began to notice that whenever we started to discuss the difficulties they were having at home, Wade became a bit teary-eyed and was clearly in some sort of emotional crisis himself.

When I talked with Wade individually, he stated, "I have a family history of depression going back three generations.  I’ve been worried about our finances and Vanessa hasn’t been working.  I’ve been too disoriented and depressed to work very efficiently myself…and I have been haunted by thoughts about harming the baby."  When Wade described these thoughts to me, it became clear that he was in the midst of a major depression with symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Until Vanessa noticed the change in Wade’s behavior, however, it hadn’t even occurred to Wade that he might be depressed.

I have found that childbirth can trigger either the onset or the worsening of OCD in men, just as it does in women.  To me this means that when a man perceives childbirth as a stressful event, it can put him at risk for the disease.

♦ Technique: Ten Reassurances and Advice
Often, a woman who suffers postpartum depression is barely able to function, so the new father becomes the sole support and protector of his partner and his baby, as well as other children, if there are any.  Once the woman recovers, it is also the father’s job to rebuild the family unit.  Have you found, as I have, that many men become overwhelmed by this increased responsibility? 

The following are ten reassurances I give the partners of women suffering from postpartum depression. 

  1. "Your partner’s illness is treatable.  Don’t be afraid of it."
  2. I state, "Don’t be impatient with the treatment process."  I tell fathers that it may take weeks if not months for their partners to recover.  I explain to them that women may be irritable or depressed, have crying spells and be unpredictable.  I tell fathers that these symptoms are to be expected but that postpartum depression can be overcome.
  3. I state, "You may need to go with your partner to the doctor."  I explain to fathers that a woman may find it difficult to communicate openly and properly, not because she doesn’t want to, but because her depression can negatively impact her ability to do so.
  4. I state, "Don’t let your partner discontinue treatment."  I explain to fathers that once the acute phase of a woman’s depression is over, she may be tempted to stop her medication or treatment.  I encourage the partners of these women not to let this happen.  In fact, the woman may have to continue treatment for many months after the acute episode is over in order to avoid a relapse.
  5. I state, "Don’t try to ‘talk her out of’ the depression."  I encourage fathers to remember that depression is a disease.
  6. I encourage fathers to try to keep their own emotions in check, as difficult as it may be.
  7. I state, "Try to avoid statements such as ‘You look a bit down today; have you taken your Prozac?’"  I explain to new dads that these kinds of comments may only make the woman feel worse.  I encourage fathers to remember that people who don’t understand depression may look upon those who are depressed as "crazy." The woman may already feel that way, and I encourage men to be supportive.
  8. I state, "Don’t be shy about asking for support from other members of your family."
  9. I state, "If your partner is feeling acutely suicidal or homicidal, or you feel that your baby or other children are in danger because of her illness, take her to the nearest emergency room and have her admitted."
  10. I state, "The good news is that your partner will recover."  Last, I reassure fathers that their partners will come back and be mothers and partners to them, and I encourage men to hang in there.

Do you have a Wade who might benefit from hearing this section in your next session? 

In this section, we have discussed postpartum dads.  This has included dads and depression and the "Ten reassurances and advice" technique.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Don, B. P., & Mickelson, K. D. (2012). Paternal postpartum depression: The role of maternal postpartum depression, spousal support, and relationship satisfaction. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 1(4), 323–334.

Psouni, E., & Eichbichler, A. (2020). Feelings of restriction and incompetence in parenting mediate the link between attachment anxiety and paternal postnatal depression. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 21(3), 416–429.

Soliday, E., McCluskey-Fawcett, K., & O'Brien, M. (1999). Postpartum affect and depressive symptoms in mothers and fathers. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 69(1), 30–38.

Swami, V., Vintila, M., Goian, C., Tudorel, O., & Bucur, V. (2020). Mental health literacy of maternal and paternal postnatal depression in a community sample of Romanian adults. International Perspectives in Psychology: Research, Practice, Consultation, 9(3), 147–158.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 14
What is a sample of a reassurance you could provide the father experiencing postpartum depression? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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Postpartum Depression: Diagnosis and Treatment

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