Chris Illuminati, 33, a New Jersey-based writer says his depression started about a month after his son was born. “That was when we really started to get into the continuous nights of not sleeping and the days that weren’t on a set schedule. I’m [usually] happy, and people started asking ‘Are you all right?’ It would get worse at night…you’re up with the baby and alone with your thoughts,” Illuminati recalls. Like many men who experience baby blues, Illuminati withdrew and became uncharacteristically short-tempered. “It felt like I wasn’t in control. I would look forward to running errands because I was out in the car by myself,” Illuminati confesses.
How to recognize it
Joel Schwartzberg, 42, the author of The 40-Year-Old Version can relate. “When my son was born, it felt like a wrecking ball on my life. I fell into a depression and then I felt guilty about having these feelings,” Schwartzberg says. Like Illuminati, he would drive to feel free—which for him meant heading to his favorite junk-food outlets. “I would tell my [now ex-] wife ‘Why don’t you sleep and I’ll take the baby for a drive.’ Then I’d indulge in foods like hot dogs with mustard and sauerkraut, jelly donuts, and bagels and cream cheese,” he recalls. Aside from anger and changes in eating habits, drinking, gambling, working too much, or having thoughts of an affair (or actually having one) can be red flags as is a change in personality. “If the spouse says ‘Who is this person?’ There’s a good chance depression is happening,” says therapist Patricia O’Laughlin, MFT, ATR, at Center for the Psychology of Women in Silver Lake, CA. A prime example: eager dad-to-be turned distant dad. “When she was pregnant, we were happy and excited about the baby. But the moment we got home, it was a shock to the system,” says Schwartzberg.
Unfortunately, experts say postpartum depression for dad has different effects than it does for mom. Many men suffer in silence. “There is so much focus on the women and postpartum depression, professionals aren’t looking for it in men when the couple comes in,” O’Laughlin says.
Read more: Depression and new motherhood – How to cope
Illuminati observes, “If you have three new moms together, they’re talking about how they feel. If you have three new dads together, they’re like ‘So who’s playing this weekend?’ There’s the whole ‘suck it up’ mentality.” And while Schwartzberg says he was criticized and called selfish after sharing his experience in Newsweek, he’s since realized he’s not alone. “I had no idea there were other dads who were going through the same thing until I started to meet them as a result of my writing.”
How to cope
If you or your partner is struggling, help is available—and crucial. “We know that when left untreated, postpartum mood disorders often worsen and can ruin a marriage and career and lead to financial problems. A father’s depression can also have a negative impact on the child’s emotional and behavioral development,” says Courtenay, who suggests therapy, possibly augmented with medication.
And never underestimate the importance of some solid shut-eye. “This can be as simple as taking turns getting up with the baby every other night, limiting caffeine, or using mild sleep aids,” Courtenay says. Additional resources—including a self-test—can be found on Courtenay’s website, SadDaddy.com.
As for both Schwartzberg (now father to three) and Illuminati, their respective depressions diminished. “Finally those babies who are so needy start to smile, and you begin to feel bonded with them. As they grow, you can identify a piece of them with yourself. That put the final nail in the coffin of my depression,” says Schwartzberg, who didn’t seek help but wishes he had. Illuminati’s story has a similar ending: “Like with a new job, you freak out the first few days until you start getting into a rhythm of it.”
– Amy Levin-Epstein