We’ve become more open to talking about postpartum depression in new mothers recently, but there’s one stigma that has yet to budge: male postpartum depression.
“One in ten dads experience postpartum depression, and eighteen percent of dads experience some kind of anxiety disorder, whether it’s OCD, PTSD, or generalized anxiety,” says Dr. Daniel Singley, Ph.D., a psychologist in San Diego,CA, and founder of The Center for Men’s Excellence. Dr. Singley’s team has conducted research on perinatal mental illness, and when we asked him about the gendered stigmas, he said that from a public health perspective, the numbers are staggering. “It’s bigger than depression,” he tells Thrive Global. “Postpartum depression gets the most media attention, but in the field, we look more broadly at perinatal disorders. Anxiety is hugely prevalent, and other mental issues arise as well.”
Dr. Singley has dedicated much of his career to studying the psychology behind fatherhood, and he says the problem behind the stigma starts with the fact that society sees early parenthood as a domain for new moms. “People think that only women experience these struggles because they’re the ones that have the baby, the hormonal changes, and the bodily changes,” he shares. “Men are told they need to support their partners, but nobody tells a new dad that they’ll need support.”
Another issue is that society often misses the symptoms of depression among new dads, principally because men tend to manifest their struggles differently than how we’d usually expect. Dr. Singley calls this “male masked depression,” which he says takes the form of “anger, isolation, extreme irritation or frustration, an increase in substance use, longer work hours, playing more video games, and emotionally shutting down around people.” The existing stigma surrounding mental health is already prevalent, so for new dads, they’ll usually blame their symptoms on a headache or muscle pains. “We need to change how we socialize men and women to think about mental health and early parenthood,” Singley says. “Typically the name for this industry is maternal mental health. This needs to change.”
When it comes to preventing and combating male postpartum disorders, the first step starts at the top – getting medical professionals to screen dads when they screen moms for depression. “When the mom has postpartum depression, there is a 50 percent chance the father will too,” Singley explains.
The next step comes down to flipping the expectations of traditional masculinity. According to Dr. Singley, new dads need to understand the importance of prioritizing their own well-being, and be okay with changing what the traditional role of the “provider” means. “Protecting and providing is a lot more than just providing a home and having food on the table,” Singley says. “Beyond the basic needs, there’s plenty of research to support the idea that the most important thing a dad can provide is the best and healthiest version of himself.”
Finally, the worst thing a new dad can do is ignore the problem. Men are often afraid of being vulnerable about their mental health, but it’s okay to acknowledge what’s going on inside, and it’s important to do something about it, Singley notes. “Instead of trying to move onto something different, talk to somebody.”
Dr. Singley is on the board of directors of Postpartum Support International. You can visit postpartum.net to read more information on perinatal mental disorders and find helpful resources.