Positive Relationships: Baby blues


Spare a thought for fathers, who can also experience post-natal depression that may affect family relationships, says Katy Morton.

Post-natal depression is a common condition, and it's not just mothers who suffer from the 'baby blues'. A recent study by the Medical Research Council found that 21 per cent of fathers experience an episode of depression from when their child is born up until the age of 12 years, and the risk is highest during the first year after a birth.

'For both parents, the presence of a new baby is a life-changing experience involving enormous transition,' says the Mental Health Foundation's head of research, Eva Cyhlarova. 'While joyful for most, it can also be accompanied by a significant amount of stress as a couple find their way and adjust.'

According to consultant psychiatrist Dr Andrew Macaulay, around one in 20 men require treatment for post-natal depression in comparison to one in ten women. But despite the condition being more common in women, he says, men struggle to recognise depression and are less likely to come forward when they do.

WHEN DOES IT OCCUR?

Post-natal depression, or PND, is most likely to develop in men or women when a baby is between four and six months old, considered to be the most difficult period. It's also possible for men to suffer from the condition while their partner is pregnant, as they may feel left out at the mother receiving more attention than normal.

While there is no specific cause to PND, a range of factors are thought to contribute - a change in relationship, family pressures, fear of responsibility or financial concerns. Other triggers include stress, sleep deprivation, and a partner suffering from the condition.

Ms Cyhlarova explains, 'The presence of a new baby and the onset of depression in their partner can be a shock for fathers. Their role becomes even more crucial as a greater degree of practical and emotional support is required. This often results in feelings of confusion and isolation.'

Some men are more vulnerable to post-natal depression than others, including those who have had poor childhoods, are young and socially disadvantaged, have a fragile sense of self, or have no siblings and find it difficult to share.

Dr Macaulay says, 'There is often a discrepancy between expectation and reality when a new baby comes along. Some parents expect that when a child is born everything will be wonderful, but unfortunately it is not always like that.'

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

The symptoms of PND in men are very similar to depression. Mental health experts say that because there are no distinguishable features, the condition can often go undiagnosed. But signs can include a low mood, feeling irritable, angry and anxious, or a sense of hopelessness and gloom for the future.

HOW IS IT TREATED?

Although PND can last for several months or years it is treatable, but the first hurdle is seeking help.

'Anyone who suspects they have post-natal depression should visit their GP,' says Dr Macaulay. 'Once an initial discussion has taken place and the condition has been diagnosed, it is reasonably easy to treat.'

Most commonly, a doctor will recommend a talking treatment such as counselling or cognitive therapy. Health visitors should be able to tell a sufferer what help is available in the local area and recommend support groups. Talking to family and friends can also be useful, as well as accepting help in caring for a new baby.

Alternatively, a GP will prescribe a course of anti-depressants, but these are not effective for everyone. A third option is to combine talking treatments with the use of anti-depressants.

Dr Macaulay warns that if the condition goes untreated, men start taking up new coping strategies, such as working longer hours to avoid coming home or turning to drink or drugs.

Parents suffering from PND could also affect their child's development in the long term, says Dr Macauley. 'There is robust evidence to suggest that if PND is not spotted in men, their children will suffer. This is because of the lack of effective parenting, given and the absence of a strong father figure.'

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