Welcome back to the Pickles and Ice Cream (P&I) blog! If you remember, we’ve talked about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) in past articles. We talk a lot about how PMADs affect mothers and birth givers. Now we’d like to shift the focus to talk about groups that are often left out of the conversation surrounding PMADS: men and fathers. We know a lot about how PMADs affect mothers, but we know little about how they affect fathers. By the end of this blog post, you hopefully understand how PMADs affect men, what signs and symptoms to look for, and how to provide support for men who are impacted by PMADs.
What are PMADs and How do They Impact Men?
Quick review! PMADs refer to a set of mental health symptoms that birth givers experience during and after pregnancy. Symptoms of PMADs are similar to depression and anxiety. Without treatment, PMADs can become worse and lead to panic disorders and psychosis. Paternal perinatal depression (PPND) and anxiety are the terms used to describe the effect of PMAD symptoms in men. Over 1 in 10 fathers may experience PPND or anxiety during pregnancy and after childbirth. While symptoms are similar for men and women, men may show different signs of anxiety and depression because of gender roles.
We often hear that men are less likely to seek help for mental health issues. Let’s unpack that a bit more!
Like we said before, men feel pressure to fit the expectations of traditional gender roles. Think how often you’ve heard someone say that “boys don’t cry” or that someone just needs to “man up.” These gender roles are learned from friends, families, and communities that men belong to. For example, traditional gender roles for men make it hard for them to share their feelings openly and discuss their thoughts and feelings with friends. This means that men have difficulties reaching out to trusted friends when experiencing difficult thoughts and feelings. These gender roles also make men feel as if the only person they should share their feelings with are their romantic partners. While it can be fulfilling to have a partner for emotional support, it also means that there is only one support that men feel they can lean on. Because of this, men will often bottle up their feelings. You can see how this makes it hard to tell when fathers are experiencing anxiety and depression. Don’t worry! There are still factors you can look out for if you are worried that someone you know is at risk of PPND and anxiety:
- A partner or co-parent who is also experiencing PMADs
- Personal history of depression and anxiety
- Increased financial pressure due to fatherhood
- Increased responsibilities due to fatherhood
- Conflicts with friends and family
- Anger and irritability
- Body aches and pains
- Drinking and using drugs more than usual
- Isolation from friends and family
- Loss of interest in hobbies and work
Resources for Men and Families Experiencing PMAD
We know a lot about how PMADs affect women and mothers. This information allows us to develop treatments and support that are relatable and useful for men and fathers. There is not enough information about how paternal perinatal anxiety and depression affect men. Having less information means it is not as clear what treatment and support are useful for men. However, new research is starting to point us in the right direction.
Traditional Forms of Treatment:
There is evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be helpful in treating anxiety and depression. In CBT, a trained therapist can assist in talking through difficult thoughts and feelings. The benefit of CBT is that it can be done alone, with a group, or with a partner or coparent. CBT has been shown to help women who are experiencing PMADs. More research is being done to understand how CBT can specifically help men with PPND and anxiety.
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) can also be helpful. DBT focuses on gaining and using skills to improve mental health. The skills DBT focuses on include handling with difficult emotions (regulation), mindfulness, building healthy relationships, and tolerating pain and stress. DBT can be very helpful if a substance use disorder is happening at the same time as PPN and anxiety.
Non-Traditional Forms of Treatment
Men and fathers may also benefit from non-traditional forms of treatment. This can be very helpful if your loved one is not quite ready to seek traditional treatment. Examples of non-traditional forms of treatment include:
- Online discussion groups
One support group that you may find helpful is the National Fatherhood Initiative. They have an online community with resources and tools to support men as they learn to become fathers. Also, the Pickles and Ice Cream team is always here to help you and your family on your parenting journey. Our resources can help you budget, support your partner, ask support from your partner, and prepare for parenthood in general!
As always, the P&I team is always happy to support you and your family!
Blog Writer: Jay Morries
Expert Reviewer: Rae-Anne Pinckney