It may come as no surprise to new dads, but Post Partum Depression (PPD) does not only impact mothers of newborns. Men can, and often do without realizing, have PPD as well.
In the lead-up to the holiday season, pediatrician and gay dad Dr. Antwon Chavis opened up about his own struggles with mental health, which he said have been especially heavy since he and his husband started fostering a newborn baby in early December 2021.
"I’ve been on Prozac for anxiety for years," Dr. Chavis said on Instagram. "But becoming a dad to a newborn tested my mental health more than I expected. For many new dads, it may be more than 'sleep deprivation.'"
We reached out to Dr. Chavis to let us know why he decided to speak out on this issue. "I wanted to shed light on an important topic that we don’t talk about enough," he said. "There is such stigma around men’s mental health. More importantly, there is this perception that men aren’t at risk after being becoming new dads because we don’t carry children. The lack of awareness puts our families at risk, affects how we support our equally stressed-out partner, and how we bond with and love on our kids."
As a pediatrician, Dr. Chavis said he sees firsthand how men’s health is affected by PPD — some sit on their phones during the visit instead of comforting a crying baby during their exam, or get tearful when asked "how are you doing?" because they feel like their baby doesn’t love them or their relationship with their spouse has changed. "As parental leave for new dads is not optimum for most men, the stress of working puts us at high risk as well. We just need to look out for each other," he said."
As family dynamics evolve, more men are becoming involved in raising their kids. As more men dedicate themselves to parenting, Dr. Chavis said it's important dads keep close tabs on their mental wellbeing.
"The 'Modern Day Father' can be a single parent or married. He can have a male or female partner," he continued. "He can even be a stay-at-home Dad. He can be foster, step or adoptive. We are taught the signs of maternal postpartum depression (PPD), but Dads can have PPD as well."
In fact, Dr. Chavis said Paternal PPD affects a significant number of new dads; up to one in four first-time fathers, and that rate doubles if their partner also has PPD. For new dads, PPD can often fly under the radar. According to Dr. Chavis, that's because men and women deal with depression in different ways.
Uncontrolled and undiagnosed PPD in dads can also have a serious impact on the rest of the family, Dr. Chavis warned, including developmental, emotional, and behavioral problems in kids.
That's because untreated PPD can affect how much fathers smile at, talk to, and positively parent their babies.
"As you explore your new role as 'Dad', stay involved in gynecological and pediatric visits," Dr. Chavis suggested. "And be open if you’re struggling within the first year of your kid’s life. Men in general (especially us men of color) are a hard group to accept mental health help. If someone offers you help, accept it. And if you need it, get it. Put your oxygen mask on first. Your family depends on it."
"Depressed fathers are more likely to excessively criticize themselves, be restless or irritable, and become aggressive," Dr. Chavis said. "We may even pick up heavy smoking or drug addictions, or start abusing alcohol."