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Men struggle to beat baby blues
November 18, 2007
By Alice Hudson

First-time Kiwi fathers are being struck with postnatal depression as often as women.

Yet their needs are being overlooked by a public health system geared solely towards mothers and children, claim parenting advisers and health professionals.

About 15 per cent of new dads experience the baby blues, and the likelihood of postnatal depression in fathers increases when the mother is also suffering, experts say.

Philip Chapman, a promoter of men's health and "positive fathering" for Nelson District Health Board, said every week he saw three to four depressed new dads.

"Most men wouldn't even know it's depression... They are feeling flat, down, and concerned as to whether they will be a good dad."

He said it was hard for men to ask for help, especially if the mother was also having difficulties. "As a male, you don't want to say, 'what about me' at that time."

He said men weren't being given sufficient tools to cope with the possibility their partner might become depressed, let alone manage their own state of mind. Education needed to begin at an antenatal level, he said.

"A lot of support groups are run by women for women and they don't want to involve men at all."

A father's depression could strain the parents' relationship, or cause it to fail, and affect the new child without the parents even realising what was going on, Chapman said.

He described a pamphlet for new fathers on women's postnatal depression as "the most patronising thing I have ever seen".

It advised men to run their partners' baths and "make sure you do your share of the housework", but did not tackle confusing or conflicting emotions the man might be feeling.

"They don't know whether they're still that popular with the wife, often they lose a lot of their single friends.

"They think, you have a baby, you're broke, you never have sex again and that's it - get used to it."

He said men were made to feel shallow for grieving a loss of sex in their relationship, when it was not just sexual contact they were missing. "They will use the word sex but in fact they are feeling isolated, not part of it, out of the loop."

Craig Davis, founder of Auckland support organisation Shore Fathers, said depressed dads were not new, but symptoms often went unchecked.

Men's baby blues could manifest in various ways, he said. "We work more, we drink more, we become socially incompetent. Some guys become tearful, others very withdrawn. To get them to talk can be like pulling teeth."

Support services were geared towards women "and rightly so" but the confusion and anxiety men felt often got overlooked. Men generally didn't complain of feeling depressed. "They think, 'what am I getting stressed about, I'm just the dad'."

Warwick Pudney, senior lecturer in psychotherapy at AUT University and founder of Man Alive men's counselling centre, agreed the biggest problem with depression in men was getting them talking about it.

He said when the term postnatal depression was used alongside the word male, "people laugh". "They want to do that too, do they?", was a comment he heard from women.

The big difference between women's and men's postnatal depression was that a woman's symptoms were thought to be at least in part caused by hormones - a man's weren't.

Jacqi Barrett, a counsellor at Auckland's Home and Family Services, said men often experienced "some sort of psychological distress" after baby was born. She said men did not show up at counselling for "postnatal depression". Instead, they presented with problems at work, or general anxiety, or loss of libido.

Parenthood and postnatal depression take a toll on new dads

Kevin's baby daughter is three months old. The 30-year-old from Nelson says he could never have predicted parenthood would take such a huge toll mentally, on both his partner and himself.

"Just the exhaustion. Suddenly you're back down to one income, so there's financial worries, plus there's a wee dependant who's awake for 20 hours crying."

The baby has been diagnosed as being lactose intolerant, which at least gives a reason as to why she has sometimes been awake for 24 hours, screaming.

"You come home from work, tired, but you have to keep the smile on," he says.

Both he and his partner - who has suffered symptoms of post-natal depression worse than his own - have been offered anti-depressants, but have chosen to rely on counselling and practical advice instead.

Kevin says he and his partner were at breaking point a few weeks ago. "She was going to walk out on me.

"It's hard to see your partner on the floor, saying this is just too much, I can't do it, while you feel unable to help."

He said talking to a counsellor had probably saved their relationship. "You get to the point where you just don't want to come home. You have these expectations [of parenthood] and sometimes they don't work out like you thought."

It's easy to feel isolated, he says, or feel that you shouldn't complain, that it is the woman who needs support. Men do too though, and talking helps. "Just get it off your chest," he says.
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