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Fathers and depression

4-minute read

Most people know that depression and anxiety can affect women during pregnancy and early parenthood, but men can also be at risk. Up to 1 in 10 new dads can experience depression during the pregnancy or after the birth.

Depression in men is not necessarily the result of their partner experiencing similar feelings. Although postnatal depression in mums may indicate the dad having it too, it doesn’t always happen this way. 

Depression in new fathers can begin during the pregnancy and increase after the birth of the child.

New fathers don’t access the sort of services that new mothers do. They don’t tend to see their doctor, maternal and child health nurse or midwife, which is where problems are often picked up in women.

As with women, it’s important that depression in fathers is recognised and treated early and effectively.

This will help avoid long-term effects on the father’s mental health and his relationships with his partner, children, family and friends.

What can cause depression in new fathers?

As with all forms of depression, there’s a range of physical, social and emotional factors that can contribute to men developing depression:

  • a lack of social and emotional support
  • stress and changes in your relationships
  • a lack of sleep
  • loss and grief issues
  • difficulty adjusting to parenthood
  • meeting expectations
  • a negative or traumatic birth experience.

Some men may find that the changes to their home life and family structure are difficult to cope with. Traditional attitudes towards fatherhood and masculinity can mean that men are less likely to talk about how they feel. Worries about extra responsibilities, financial stresses and managing work can also have an effect.

Risk factors for paternal depression

Some of the known risk factors associated with depression in fathers (paternal depression) include:

  • a man’s partner experiencing postnatal depression
  • a previous history of depression
  • relationship problems
  • low self-esteem
  • feelings of incompetence in the parenting role
  • first-time fatherhood
  • an unsettled baby

Paternal depression can affect men of all ages, personality types and financial status.

Symptoms of paternal depression

Some of the symptoms associated with postnatal depression in men include:

  • tiredness, headaches and pain
  • irritability, anxiety and anger
  • loss of libido
  • changes in appetite
  • feelings of being overwhelmed, out of control and unable to cope
  • a tendency to take risks
  • changes to sleep patterns, especially a lack of sleep
  • feelings of isolation and disconnection from partner, friends or family
  • increased hours of work as a part of the withdrawal from family
  • increased use of drugs or alcohol instead of seeking treatment for depression

Where can I go for advice and support?

If you think that you or your partner may be experiencing postnatal depression, you should speak to your doctor.

Often a man’s friends are the first to notice symptoms of depression, such as not turning up to social events or being unusually cranky or down. If you notice these symptoms in a mate, you can try asking your friend about his feelings. Let him know you're there for him and that he should think about getting help.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2019

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