May 18, 2010 — -- When his little bundle of joy came home from the hospital, Rob Sandler was overcome with emotion but not the kind he had expected.
"It was just a feeling of complete sadness, really deep sadness," Sandler, a 36-year-old Houston native, said. "I cried a lot, sometimes uncontrollably. I didn't sleep very well. I was very excited to have a boy. I mean, I wanted to pass on my name but also have him experience the same things I did.
"I was thinking, 'God, this is never going to get any better. And I'm overwhelmed and I'm trapped,'" Sandler said. "What am I supposed to do? I just want to run away."
Sandler said he felt disconnected from his newborn, slammed with new responsibilities and hopelessly overwhelmed. And other new fathers have experienced the same. There has been such a surge in male postpartum depression that the Journal of the American Medical Association is releasing one of the first studies on the phenomenon today.
"Men's postpartum depression is surprisingly common," psychotherapist Will Courtenay said. "In fact, a man's risk of depression doubles in the nine months after his child is born."
About 10 percent of women experience severe postpartum depression but few have studied its effect on men.
As many as one in four new dads may experience what's called parental postnatal depression, and the problem can be more than just psychological, Courtenay said.
Men can have increased estrogen and decreased testosterone levels after birth. Some biologists say this may be nature's way of keeping men around to care for the baby, but those hormone changes can also cause the blues.
"Just like women, men go through hormonal changes," Courtenay said. "[And] there are factors that weigh on us very heavily. One is sleep deprivation, which doesn''t choose a gender, depending on how you work it out with your wife. Another is anxiety."
Dad: Male Postpartum Depression Played Role in Divorce
Author Joel Schwartzberg wrote about his battle with postpartum depression in his book "The 40-Year-Old Version." Like many dads battling postpartum depression, he never sought treatment. Eventually, he was able to bond with his children as they grew, but his depression took a crippling toll on his marriage and, he said, was a factor in his divorce.
"I resented my wife at the time because she was the full-time parent who took care of the kids, who was clearly attached to them," he said. "And in some ways, I felt crowded out. That created frustration inside me and a depression inside me."
Sandler, however, didn't wait and sought help within two weeks of his new son's being home.
"If there's something wrong, you need to get help for it," his wife, Traci Sandler, said. "We came together and realized this is something a little more serious. It's not something that's just going to go away."
Sandler started taking antidepressants and attended talk therapy. As his son turns 2 years old this year, Sandler is off his medication and said he's bonding beautifully with his son.
"There's nothing to be ashamed about," he said. "I think it takes a bigger man and a stronger man to go and realize that something's wrong, to get help [rather] than to let it fester and ruin your abilities to be a good father."