Dad’s baby blues

Picture the excitement heralding the arrival of a new addition to the family. Now fast forward to a post-partum jangled reality: the constant struggle to get enough sleep, nerves and sometimes, frayed tempers. Of course, these are generally associated with the mother, whose lot it is to give birth and nurse.

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Published: Fri 21 May 2010, 9:41 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 1:46 PM

Prenatal and postpartum, to be precise, are terms common enough for all the mothers out there and their understanding, or not so understanding, spouses.

Strangely, the one thing many overlook is the deal meted out to those fathers who are not thick-skinned enough to smile away the blues of their spouses or get affected by childbirth. It is commonly assumed that post-partum depression is a woman-specific syndrome. Well, we now find out that we were wrong. Not only does the stress of having a new-born affect the mother, it also influences the father. It was found so in adequately large number of cases to ascertain if it is in fact true. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association states that more than 10 per cent of men experienced serious depression, starting from the first trimester of pregnancy to a year after birth. That’s a credible enough figure to make all those macho dads out there to silently identify and acknowledge the fact. For those who will not or have not suffered, it is merely another ‘sissy’ report. But the fact remains that depression is real and not gender bound in any way. Whatever its cause, it does affect people of all stripes, colour and sex, and it can have lasting effects on one’s life unless recognised and addressed. Yes, men are human and can be affected too.

The report is based on the findings of 43 studies involving more than 28,000 subjects from different countries. Interestingly, the report cites greater depression in American fathers than those from other developed countries. One can attribute this to greater involvement of American fathers in sharing family and home responsibilities than their counterparts in other parts of the world.

Compared to women, depression among men is considerably lower, but does merit due concern. It may be helpful to note the known indicators for women for comparative purposes. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists notes that approximately 14 to 23 per cent of women experience depression during pregnancy while five to 25 per cent suffer from postpartum depression.

The arrival of the newest member of the family is an occasion joyous enough to stoically take the accompanying disorder in one’s stride, but there is more to it. It is often unarticulated but real enough and, in some cases, damaging enough to merit concern. As this fact is deeper than imagined. It is documented that depression in fathers has a negative effect on children. Yes, we are talking only fathers here, for the adverse impact on children raised by mothers experiencing postpartum depression is common knowledge. The blues associated with new mothers who are struggling to cope with the stupendous change in their life pattern also impacts fathers. With more and more women working outside the home, fathers are inadvertently finding themselves increasingly involved in running the house and rearing children. Besides, the increased expectation from the father to undertake responsibilities, previously considered a female domain, puts additional pressure.

Sadly, in other cultures outside the West, depression of any sort is treated as a social disorder and often dismissed. Mothers, even in the affluent strata, have often experienced great difficulty in communicating such issues. This is often due to the absence of a support mechanism, in the form of institutions, and a clear lack of understanding among people. It is likely to be doubly difficult for men to convey or even relate to such issues. In such cases, the family, namely the new parents, are subjected to extreme stress that can affect their marital life and also endanger the child’s upbringing .

It may be helpful to disseminate information related to this malady among people through existing healthcare facilities. The print and digital media can be used to preclude misunderstandings and also offer guidelines on how to cope.

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