Dads Get Postpartum Depression Too

dads with postpartum depression

When the depression hit after the birth of his first child, Joel Schwartzberg said he didn't believe anyone had a name for what he was going through.

"Within the first week of bringing my baby home, I thought, 'Oh my gosh, what have we done?'" Schwartzberg said of his son, who is now 10.

Going out and seeing other new parents only made his anxiety worse.

"Other fathers felt happy and joyous," said Schwartzberg. "Inside, I felt like my world had collapsed, and along with that, I felt a great and incredible sense of responsibility, and that sense of responsibility was so weighty. … "

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has at last put numbers to men like Schwartzberg, who fall into their own version of a postpartum depression, a condition usually associated with new mothers, after a baby arrives.

Researchers found that at least one in 10 new fathers experienced postpartum depression.

"I thought I was the only person in the world who was a bad dad. I thought I was deficient, that I was handicapped. What I learned was that I was not alone by any stretch. It helped me relax; it helped me not be so hard on myself," said Schwartzberg, who eventually read about a doctor who had studied postpartum depression in fathers.

In the current JAMA study, researchers from Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va., analyzed 43 studies involving a total of 28,004 men. In general, only about 4.8 percent of men fit the diagnosis of depression. But in fathers with a new baby, depression averaged 10.4 percent. Three months after birth, the study found more than 25 percent of men were depressed.

Women's Postpartum Depression Hits Men Too

The study found that men were twice as likely to experience depression if their partner was also depressed. In general, mothers experience postpartum depression at a rate of 10 to 30 percent.

But the study has its skeptics. "I don't know that these numbers are firm numbers," said Dr. Ken Robbins, medical director at the Stoughton Hospital Geriatric Psychiatry Unit in Stoughton, Wis.

Robbins said while the study showed a strong case for postpartum depression in men, it has made it difficult to state exactly how many men experience the condition.

Researchers have usually associated postpartum depression with the changing hormones surrounding birth. But more and more researchers have noted that the lack of sleep, the increased stress and family strain associated with the little bundle of joy are classic triggers for depression.

"I think in terms of potential causes of depression in women, the hormone hypothesis has gotten a lot of attention. If you ask somebody on the street why women get postpartum depression, hormones is the automatic answer," said Dr. James Paulson, lead author of the study and associate professor of pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

"There's a massive decrease in estrogen [after birth], and that happens to every woman. Efforts to correlate that to depression -- those studies for the most part have failed to find a link," he said. "On the other hand, there are studies that have linked financial stress or marital strain to postpartum depression in women."

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