PEI

New dads can suffer from baby blues as well, psychologist says

As more fathers take on a larger role in parenting — and the pressures and sacrifices that go along with it —  men can shows signs similar to postpartum depression, says a Charlottetown psychologist

'He can experience the same symptoms as a woman who is labeled postpartum depressed'

Charlottetown psychologist Ken Pierce says there should be more awareness of fathers who struggle with depression. (Elnur/Shutterstock)

Depression during and after pregnancy is most often associated with women, says Charlottetown psychologist Ken Pierce.

Rightly so. They generally still do most of the parenting and have the added stress of pregnancy and childbirth.

But as more fathers take on a larger role in parenting — and the pressures and sacrifices that go along with it —  men can also show signs similar to postpartum depression, Pierce said.

"It's often not recognized as that," he said. "It's often considered anxiety, stress, anger even just depression but often it can be tied to the father's perception of his role in the family. So he would fit the criteria, except that it's a man. And it often gets, in a sense, mislabeled."

Health PEI says up to 80 per cent of new parents will experience "baby blues" within the first few days or weeks after their baby is born. It recommends a prenatal psychosocial assessment for pregnant woman at 16-20 weeks.

We have this illusion that being a parent should be a good thing, everybody should be happy about it.— Ken Pierce

Maternal perinatal and postpartum mental health services are offered at P.E.I.'s Women's Wellness Program and Sexual Health Services. A spokesperson for Health PEI said there currently is not a specific program for new fathers.

"Any fathers having mental health difficulties would be directed through community mental health or would have access to the new adult anxiety program through [the] strongest families program," he said in an email to CBC.

More awareness

Pierce said there should be more awareness of fathers who struggle with depression. 

"In our culture, we have this illusion that being a parent should be a good thing, everybody should be happy about it," he said.

"Therefore we don't encourage our parents to actually talk about the truth of parenting, which is that it's actually a painful pleasure, that we have to change diapers and nurture them and protect them while they hug us and tell us they love us."

If a dad doesn't think it's OK to talk about that, he said, and complain about it to his friends and family, then he keeps it inside. "And if he can experience the same symptoms as a woman who is labelled postpartum depressed, it's not a gender thing."

Danya O'Malley, executive director of P.E.I. Family Violence Prevention Services, says pregnancy is one of the well-known factors in an unhealthy relationship becoming more abusive. (Shane Ross/CBC)

Danya O'Malley, executive director of P.E.I. Family Violence Prevention Services, said the more help new fathers can get for mental health struggles, the better.

"Pregnancy is one of the well-known factors in an unhealthy relationship becoming more abusive," she said.

"There are often red flags for abuse before that — excessive jealousy, controlling behaviour — just many different ways of trying to control their partner. The reason why it happens during pregnancy is that often for the first time a woman's total focus may not be on her partner, it might be on herself."

You can absolutely fight with your partner. That's a natural and normal part of life but it's always important to fight fair.— Danya O'Malley

Tension and arguments can happen in healthy relationships, as well, O'Malley said. The key is learning how to deal with conflict.

"You can absolutely fight with your partner. That's a natural and normal part of life but … you never say hurtful, disparaging things about your partner's character and you only fight about what you're fighting about today."

O'Malley said men traditionally have not received as much emotional support that women do, and have tended to suppress feelings such as vulnerability or weakness.

"Things are changing now at least on the parenting level," she said.

"You get fathers who you see really nurturing their kids and hugging and kissing them and reading to them and really able to connect with that side of being softer and more caring. And I really hope that that's going to raise a whole other generation of little boys who aren't afraid to show feelings."

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