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Support Group Wants Dads To Know They Can Experience Postpartum Depression

We can all agree it's incredibly tough to be a mom, and new mothers especially need all the support they can get. But what about new fathers? Don't they need support, too? The answer is yes.

Research suggests you don't have to have given birth to experience the adverse effect of postpartum depression. This means new dads are just as likely as new moms to experience feelings of depression or anxiety, according to a presentation made by a group of psychologists at the American Psychological Association last week.

Clinical health psychologist and researcher Sara Rosenquist, along with Dan Singley, a psychologist at the Center for Men's Excellence, presented their findings and explained there is a common misconception about men's mental health following childbirth.

"One of the main myths is men don't experience hormonal changes, therefore they can't get postpartum depression or anxiety," Singley said. "In fact, plenty of research shows that men do get hormonal changes around the birth of children, and that hormonal change is just one of a number of bio-psychosocial factors that cause postpartum mood issues."

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Postpartum symptoms like irritability, significant weight loss or weight gain, and problems concentrating can be brought on by a lack of sleep, attending to the newborn child, and a possible disruption in the father's work routine, psychologists said.

According to Pacific Post Partum Support Society, a Canadian support group for women and their families, new fathers may experience postpartum depression because they're struggling with embracing fatherhood. They may be agonizing over whether they're doing a good job or not, or could even feel a disconnect with their partner or baby, especially after a stressful birth.

Seleni Institute, a global nonprofit organization dedicated to perinatal mental health, suggests men are increasingly facing challenges of somehow balancing their roles as both a new father and a provider for his family. As such, he may work even harder after childbirth and experience a burnout. Despite this fact, and that more companies are offering new fathers paid time off from work, men still feel reluctant to take paternity leave.

Dr. Andrew Howlett, a psychiatrist at the Toronto-based St. Joseph's Health Centre, told CBC News the risk of depression among men while their partner is pregnant and after the birth of their child is actually double the average rate. He also said health-care providers, like family doctors and midwives, often neglect to screen new fathers for postpartum depression. Because of this, the illness is underdiagnosed and, consequently, undertreated.

Howlett and his colleagues at St. Joseph's have developed the Fathers Mental Health program, which seeks to assess and counsel new fathers who may be showing signs of depression. A big part of treatment is normalizing their experience.

"Let them know they're not alone with this," Howlett said.

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