Africa Studio/ShutterstockIn recent years, women and their caregivers have made recognition and treatment of postpartum depression disorder (PPD) a priority—including recognizing the silent signs of PPD. Good thing, since each year approximately 950,000 women suffer from the mood disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports. But all the educational efforts are geared to women—and new research suggests men may actually face a higher risk of the disorder if their testosterone levels drop after their children are delivered.
For the study, published in the journal Hormones and Behavior, experts from the University of Southern California, University of California at Los Angeles, and Northwestern University analyzed data from 149 couples in the United States. They tracked the families for 15 months post-delivery.
The researchers found that 10 percent of men reported symptoms of depression following the birth of a child. This is about double compared to the typical rate of depression in males, and the numbers suggest that PPD is almost as common for fathers as it is for mothers. Weirdly, the men’s partners seem to benefit from the guy’s PPD: The researchers report that women whose partners developed PPD had fewer symptoms themselves when they were checked at nine months and again 15 months post delivery. “We often think of motherhood as biologically driven,” explains Darby Saxbe, PhD, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of psychology at USC’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, in a press release. “[But] we are still figuring out the biology of what makes dads tick.”
This isn’t the first study to identify a problem for men and PPD: An article published in 2016 in the University of Massachusetts’ Journal of Parent and Family Mental Health found that men with a history of depression or who are young fathers are at an increased risk of developing PPD. “Men are likely to underreport their symptoms of depression due to the stigma associated with depression, along with concerns about not aligning with cultural concepts of masculinity,” the report said.
Dads should seek treatment for their their depression: Dr. Saxbe mentions that regular exercise and getting enough sleep can go a long way to righting a person’s mental state. But new dads should also consider seeking out therapy if they are struggling. One option that is off the table—testosterone supplementation. In the study, Dr. Saxbe found that higher levels of testosterone led to more parenting stress and the women with these men reported higher levels of relationship aggression.
“We know that fathers contribute a lot to child-rearing,” says Dr. Saxbe. “So it is important to figure out how to support fathers and what factors explain why some fathers are very involved in raising their children while some are absent.”