Being a good dad means I need to be fair, present, kind, consistent, a good communicator, loyal, supportive, open-minded, a good leader, a fair disciplinarian and take good care of myself.
Pretty much …. Perfect.
The truth is, I’m not perfect. I’m human…. and this dad thing is humbling. It’s kicking my ass and bringing me great joy all at once. I’ve never had this kind of experience before.
I have postpartum depression - and so do up to 25% of my male peers.
Here’s what I need you to know:
1 - The traditional therapy model doesn’t work for me.
- Showing up and admitting to another woman that I’m damaged is very scary and feels unnatural. Men are taught we are supposed to be "tough", and showing emotion makes us wonder if you will still view us as a competent protector and provider.
- Asking me to talk about emotions I don’t even understand (vulnerability, denial, joy, shame) often leads to a shut-down. Rather than admit that I don't know what to say, I want to "fix" the problem. And I can't "fix" emotions. It's like expecting me to speak a foreign language that I’ve have never heard before.
- I’d respond better to alternative methods of therapy. Emotion-focused couples therapy can be very helpful, if we are willing to be vulnerable. Here, couples learn an emotional vocabulary, and how to move towards each other, versus away. Peer support is also very effective. Listening to other men’s stories and having a safe outlet outside of familiar relationships helps me with processing. It also creates accountability, provides mentorship and friendship.
2 - Shame and low self-esteem are my greatest issues - not anger.
- Shame is often rooted in family and childhood issues, past trauma/abuse, bullying, and messages from society. Exploring this stuff can often reduce my shame and increase my self-esteem, but often takes time and a therapist that knows to move very slowly.
- When I am experiencing depression - I presses play on my “worthlessness script” and then act in a way to reinforces it. Why? Because it is what I know how to do and it’s easier than exploring feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, shyness, uncertainty, stupidity or other shame- rooted emotions.
- What I was taught - is not my fault. It’s helpful for me to hear that what happened to me in my life, what I was taught about self-worth and what it means to be a man, is not my fault. I also want to know that I have a choice- to continue the cycle, or learn ways to break it.
3 - My postpartum depression will look a lot different than a woman’s.
- Anger and reckless behavior will be prevalent. Overworking or over-engagement in hobbies to avoid being home, sleeping more or staying up later at night and somatic symptoms (headaches, pain, stomach problems) may be present.
- Other signs include higher risk of substance abuse, risky behaviors like driving recklessly or engaging in fights.
- Onset of these mood disorders often occurs later in the postpartum time than in women.
- Postpartum depression in fathers is seen worldwide.
- My risk increases if the partner/woman in the relationship has depression, anxiety or OCD. I’m also at an increased risk if I’ve had a past depressive episode or a family history or depression.
4 - There’s no exact tool out there to diagnose my male postpartum depression.
- Online tests and instruments in general should not be used to make a diagnosis. They are often not thorough enough, personalized enough, and I could lie or minimize my symptoms. But tools like a depression test or the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale can be given as a way to plant a seed for future reflection or conversation.
- Ask me!!! Is being a father what I envisioned? How is it different? What has the experience of fatherhood been like for me?"
- Having a partner share their observations in an early therapy session (but NOT the first) can be helpful. Let me create some rapport with the therapist first, and when you come, talk more about my behaviors than how you perceive I’m feeling.
5 - If you suspect I am suffering - don’t push, plant seeds.
- If I say "I’m Fine" - don't argue. Share your own observations, let me know you are here if anything changes.
- Tell me it’s ok to feel scared. Tell me it you see me, support me, love me.
- Try to engage me in activities versus talking about feelings. Suggest we take a walk together, or do a physical activity together that we enjoy. It’s less scary than a face-to-face conversation about feelings.
- If we decide we need to, lets contact the pros. If I don’t have the energy to call for an appointment - that’s okay. Help me make the call.
This piece was inspired by “Parental Mood Disorders: What you need to know about working with Dads” - presented by Mark Meier and Crystal Clancy at the 2016 Beyond the Baby Blues Conference.
Mark Meier, Founder of Face It, a Minneapolis-based center to help men overcome depression.
Crystal Clancy, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Stages Counseling, based in Eagan.
Sarah Auna, Lamaze-certified Blooma Childbirth Educator.