By now, it is well accepted that women experience prenatal and postpartum mood disorders. There is limited insight, however, on mental health issues among new fathers since such problems are believed to impact women only. Although awareness regarding paternal mental health has been increasing, the challenges faced by new fathers do not receive due attention.
Every year, Americans celebrate Father’s Day on the third Sunday of June to recognize the contribution of fathers and father-figures in children’s lives. Since the day honors fatherhood and paternal guidance, it presents an opportune moment to reflect on the issues, biological changes and challenges faced by men when they become fathers. This becomes even more important since mental health issues impacting new fathers remain largely undetected and untreated.
Although the exact causes of mood and anxiety disorders among fathers are still not fully understood, such issues can affect new dads at any time during the first year of a baby’s birth. The prevalence of mood disorders among new parents follows a similar pattern. New fathers will have a high likelihood of mental health issues if they have a history of depression or anxiety, or if their female partners are experiencing such disorders.
Past research estimates that prenatal and postpartum depression (PPD) impacts nearly 10 percent of men globally and around 14 percent men in the United States. PPD is relatively higher in the three-to-six months postpartum period.
Hormonal changes may impact mood, behavior of new fathers
Parenthood results in biological, emotional and relationship changes among men and women which can be very stressful. While such changes are widely discussed in the case of women, the changes affecting men are often ignored, especially biological or hormonal changes which can significantly impact the mood and behavior of new fathers. One of the causes of perinatal paternal mental health issues is the lowering of testosterone levels and increase in hormones such as estrogen, oxytocin, prolactin and vasopressin.
The brain responds to these hormonal changes by altering almost entirely during the first year of a child’s birth. Alterations in the brain instill critical skills in men required to care for newborn babies. These skills include increased sympathy and responsiveness to the needs of babies and the ability to form deep emotional bonds. As is the case with women, these hormonal changes increase the likelihood of perinatal depression and other mood disorders in men.
Socioeconomic and psychological impacts of parenting affect men’s mental health
Psychologically, the transition to fatherhood is a complex and challenging phase. Many men face inner conflicts and uncertainties regarding their new roles as fathers. They experience difficulties in sharing their feelings with others, especially their partners, since the latter are busy caring for their infants or are suffering from mood disorders themselves. The relationship between a new father and his partner may also come under pressure due to arguments or conflicts regarding parenting. Men who have been dependent on their partners for intimacy and emotional strength are often filled with confusion, guilt and resentment since they have to give up their own needs to support their partners.
Many men additionally experience increasing financial pressure to provide for a larger family. An accepted element of manhood or fatherhood is the assurance that men will look after the financial security and safety of their families. Men may consequently face significant stress regarding their careers and the trade-off between work and leisure. A temporary or permanent professional break taken by their partners may impact overall household income, leading to greater stress for men.
PPD among new fathers, if ignored or left untreated, may inhibit the building of meaningful bonds with newborns. If fathers show lower sensitivity to children’s needs, it may hinder their cognitive development and lead to unsatisfactory social exchanges during adolescence and adulthood.
Fathers should seek support; involve in caring for child, partner
Men find it difficult to open up regarding their inner turmoil which leads to mental health issues in the first place. Those who are struggling should seek help from their spouses and families, parental support groups and specialized mental health care providers, wherever required. Such measures will lead to the development of a genuine connection with children. Actively involved fathers may shield their children from adverse life situations and inhibit behavioral problems. Such children also develop better cognitive skills in terms of academic achievement, analytical and creative skills, and mental aptitude.
Sovereign Health of San Clemente, California offers customized treatment options including individual and group psychotherapy or alternative therapies for overcoming mental illness. If you wish to undergo a mental health diagnosis or are searching for the best mental illness treatment centers, we have facilities in California and in some other major places in the U.S. Call our 24/7 helpline number (866) 819-0427 or chat online with our representatives to know more about the most effective recovery programs and how to overcome mental depression.