Whether you're a first timer or on your second (third, or fourth!) go around, the world of fatherhood can be a wild ride of emotions. For some men, a partner's pregnancy, and later, the arrival of a newborn—with all the expectations, changes, and added responsibilities—can trigger more than just the usual new-dad jitters. Instead, these new dads develop symptoms quite similar to those of women diagnosed with prenatal and postpartum depression.
This view contributes to many men denying their depression and masking their true feelings. As a result, men are less likely to seek help for their depression and consequently experience their symptoms with growing intensity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 75 to 80 percent of people who commit suicide in the United States each year are men.
Many experts now believe that treatment and proper support can help allay some new fathers' feelings of depression and confusion over their new roles. With proper education and treatment—whether through medical intervention or familial support—many men are able to successfully manage their depression.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), based in Bethesda, Maryland, estimates that in any given one-year period, about 18.8 million Americans will suffer from some form of depressive illness, and of that figure, three to four million men in the United States will be diagnosed with depression. The signs and symptoms of pre- and postnatal depression in men are often identical to those of typical depressive illness, and include irritability, anger, abuse of alcohol and illegal substances, low self-esteem, loss of interest in things and activities that were once pleasurable, fatigue, changes in appetite, and sleep disturbances—in addition to a lack of paternal bonding or involvement.
During the last two months of Rita's* pregnancy with our first child, a lot of negative thoughts began consuming my mind," recalls Thomas Howard*, a South Carolina real estate broker and now father of two. "I began to convince myself that I wasn't going to be a good father, that I wasn't making enough money in my job—even though I was—and that I wasn't going to be able to handle all of the added responsibilities that first-time fatherhood brings."
Howard further explains that as soon as these feelings became to occupy his thoughts, he began to lose weight and suffered from insomnia—something that he had never before experienced. His lack of sleep began to affect his performance at work. "My co-workers knew that something was wrong. I am a very punctual personality, but I began to come in late and started to miss showings, since I just couldn't get myself together."