Mental health challenges surrounding childbirth usually focus on women as they carry pregnancies to term and deliver babies.
Of particular concern to health experts is a condition known as post-partum depression, a type of mood disorder that mothers usually get after having a baby.
Even though it can start at any time during the baby’s first year of life, it is often most common for a new mother to start feeling its effects within four to six weeks after giving birth.
Just like normal depression, the condition is characterised by sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, irritability, low energy, changes in sleeping and eating habits as well as guilt since sufferers feel that they are unable to bond with the baby or take care of it.
Without help or prompt treatment, affected individuals can harm themselves or the baby unknowingly.
Most health systems usually have programmes or strategies geared towards helping new mothers cope with the problem.
Research into the issue focuses mostly on women as it is largely assumed that the condition is prompted by certain hormonal changes which occur in women after delivery. But to effectively address post-partum depression, health experts now recommend that interventions should target both sexes as research shows that men are also affected.
During the recently concluded Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, researchers noted that when it comes to post-partum depression most people think of the mother’s well-being. Yet, studies show that a similar proportion of men experience some form of depression after the birth of a child.
Indeed, a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 10 per cent of men worldwide showed signs of depression, often referred to as paternal post-partum depression, from the first trimester of their wife’s pregnancy through six months after the child was born.
The number spiked to a whopping 26 per cent during the three to six month period after the baby’s arrival.
Dan Singley, a psychologist and director of the American based Centre for Men’s Excellence in San Diego, stated that most people tend to attribute post-partum depression to unique physical changes women experience during pregnancy. According to Dr Singley, this paradigm needs to change as the incidence rate of depression is comparable among new mothers and fathers.
Sarah Rosenquist, head of the Centre for Reproductive Health Psychology in North Carolina, the US, stated that the predominant narrative surrounding post-partum depression has attributed the condition to hormonal changes and fluctuations specifically related to pregnancy and giving birth.
“It is highly unlikely that the hormonal disruptions of pregnancy and birthing would explain the whole picture if fathers and adoptive parents experience post-partum depression at the same rates,” said Dr Rosenquist. Unfortunately, Dr Singley stated that few psychologists receive focused training regarding identifying, assessing and treating common men’s issues in the period from conception to a year or so post-childbirth.
“Because men tend not to seek mental health services during this period, the lack of scholarly attention to this vulnerable group reflects a commonly overlooked public health disparity.”
Preskilla Munda, a Nairobi based consultant counselling psychologist, said that first-time fathers are especially vulnerable to post-partum depression as they may feel overwhelmed by grief after observing their spouses go through a difficult pregnancy or painful labour.
“Also, if their wives, partners or loved ones are going through post-partum depression it is highly likely that it will rub onto the men who could then end up having similar symptoms.”
She noted that some may also feel depressed when they are faced with the reality that they have to change routines to meet a new baby’s demands.
According to Ms Munda, who is also a psychology lecturer at African International University, financial responsibilities related to hospital costs during pregnancy as well as maintaining the health and upkeep of the baby can take a toll on men with inadequate financial y resources.
She noted that men should be encouraged to feel free to share their feelings and talk about challenges or difficulties they may be experiencing before or after the birth of a baby.
“Support from family is very important during this process. Men should also learn about the importance of self-care, good nutrition and exercise in managing and preventing depression.”
She said that those already suffering from the condition should seek medical assistance and go through psychotherapy or targeted counselling sessions that will equip them with techniques for dealing with the condition.
“Depression is a treatable condition so it is important to get help early before it becomes serious.”