A mum whose former husband took his own life after struggling with his mental health following the birth of their first child is urging people to be aware that new dads, as well as mums, can be affected by postnatal depression (PND).
John Clayton, from Cardiff, died aged 41, in November 2016. “The culmination of being a father was a very big thing for John,” his former wife Vicky Clayton said. “It’s often overlooked that men suffer from postnatal depression. Everything is very much focused on mothers, as you would expect, but having lived my life the way I have over the last five years I wish there was a lot more pointers for men to access help.”
There has been some research looking into male PND, albeit not as much as that for new mums. A small study by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) found that more than one in three new fathers (38%) are concerned about their mental health. While a large study that followed nearly 87,000 families for several years, suggested that fathers are at risk of depression in the first year of parenthood, and research by CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) shows that an equal proportion of mums and dads (3%) have considered suicide in their first year of parenthood.
What causes male PND?
Dr Andrew Mayers, an academic psychologist specialising in perinatal mental health at Bournemouth University, says he often finds people think PND only affects women because they assume it’s hormonal, but he says it has far more to do with the whole environmental impact of having a baby.
“PND is equally true for men because there are so many things that will change in a father’s life,” he says. “It’s about a change in relationship, change in finances and a change in responsibility.” But, Mayers adds, it’s also compounded by the fact many men have difficulty expressing their emotions due to ideas about “manning up”, so they find it hard to express if they are struggling in their new role as a dad.
Sarah McMullen, head of knowledge at NCT, agrees, adding: “There’s a huge lack of understanding. It’s a huge transition and a really stressful event for dads too, because they have to be strong for their partner and new family, so this in many ways can exacerbate the stigma and cause men to feel worse.”
The NCT’s own research has found there are two factors that appear to increase a dad’s risk of suffering from PND: 1) having a strained relationship with their partner, and 2) their partner experiencing postnatal depression. Other factors which are slightly less common include: age (younger dads seem more likely to experience PND) and finance (those on a low income).
What are the symptoms of male PND?
“There are a lot of similarities between how people - both men and women - can feel when experiencing postnatal depression,” says McMullen. “That overwhelming sense of emotion that comes with new parenthood - it’s similar for mums and dads.”
But there are differences in how people feel when they have PND. McMullen says when people think of PND, they think you have to be feeling really sad all the time, but some may not feel this at all. “They may have overwhelming anxiety, intrusive thoughts or insomnia,” she explains.
Other symptoms of male PND include feeling a sense of inadequacy; being unusually irritable; feeling guilty about not coping, or about not loving their baby enough; loss of appetite; being hostile or indifferent to their partner; having panic attacks; having difficulty making decisions and having disturbing thoughts about harming themselves. More symptoms can be found here.
Where can men experiencing male postnatal depression get help?
Many charity support groups may seem to focus on mothers, such as PANDAS Foundation, but they do support men too. McMullen agrees that there doesn’t seem to be “one clear place” to go for men, though. She advises as a first step for men to speak to the person they trust most, whether that be a friend, family, partner or their GP. “Making that first step of speaking to someone you can trust can open the doors to other places,” she says. Other options include calling more general mental health helplines including the Samaritans or CALM, which McMullen says can be a good first step if you don’t feel like you can speak to someone around you.
There are also a range of treatment options for men experiencing PND, which include counselling and therapy (such as cognitive behavioural therapy), medication and accredited peer support groups. These can be accessed through a referral from your GP.
Dr Mayers adds that there are many local support groups for dads. “Local charities may work better because they may understand specific people’s needs more,” he said.
Support for male postnatal depression:
Campaign Against Living Miserably: Leading a movement against male suicide. Call: 0800 58 58 58.
Samaritans: Offering a safe place for people to talk any time they like, in their own way. Call: 116 123.
PANDAS Foundation: Gives support to people coping with pre and postnatal mental illnesses, as well as their families, friends and carers. Call: 0843 28 98 401.
Bluebell - Dads in Mind: Providing support in the the Bristol area. The service includes the opportunity to talk directly to a father whose partner experienced postnatal depression.
Smile Group: A group in Cheshire with support for both mums and dads.
Search ‘postnatal depression support’ in your local area to see what may be near you.