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Let’s talk about the mental health of your partner

Having a baby is by far, one of the most stressful experiences of your life. You’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed, underprepared or anxious about taking care of the new, fragile life you’ve made. 

Whereas postnatal depression in mothers is becoming a more widely recognised and accepted issue, often partners feel left behind and unable to express their worries and concerns about the burden that a new baby has placed on their shoulders. 

The good news is that partner postnatal depression is quickly being identified as a serious, recognised and most importantly treatable, issue. Read on to find out more about depression in partners and ways to find help. 

Partners may also experience postnatal depression

The number of partners who become depressed in the first year after becoming a parent, is double that of the general population. First time parents are often particularly vulnerable, due to the dramatic change in routine, lifestyle and sleep patterns.

As with the mums who birth the baby, changes in hormones might make postnatal depression in dads, or same sex partners, more likely. Hormones including testosterone, oestrogen, and cortisol may change and fluctuate in partners during the period of time after your baby arrives.

Postnatal depression in men often goes undiagnosed

Many mental health issues experienced by men often go undiagnosed, due to lack of support for men who are struggling. This is no different for new dads. Similarly to women, the peak time for postnatal depression in men is three to six months after the birth. It often goes untreated as the symptoms can look a lot like the everyday stresses of having a newborn.

Postnatal depression in dads is also more likely if there is maternal postnatal depression. If one parent is experiencing emotional or mental health difficulties, it becomes more likely for the other to as well. Statistics claim that of fathers with depressed partners, 24% to 50% also experience depression themselves.

Factors that can increase chances of ‘partner postnatal depression’

Dads, or significant others, who are under 25 are more likely to go through postnatal depression, than their older counterparts. However, age isn’t the only risk factor for postnatal depression in men as other major risk factors can play a part too. 

These include; a history of depression and anxiety, financial pressures, sleeping issues with the baby, drug abuse or dependence and feeling unsupported by your partner. According to recent studies, not being in a relationship with the child’s mother may also impact likelihood of experiencing mental health problems. 

It is however important to note, the cause and effect is mainly unclear, so these factors might not necessarily be the direct cause of your mental health difficulties.

The ways postnatal depression can present itself

Symptoms may include:

• Fear, confusion, helplessness and uncertainty about the future

• Withdrawing from family life, work and social situations

• Indecisiveness

• Frustration, irritability, cynicism and anger

• Conflict in the home

• Violent tendencies

• Increased alcohol and drug use

• Insomnia

• Or physical symptoms such as indigestion, changes in appetite and/or weight, diarrhoea, constipation, headaches, toothaches and nausea.

How a partners’ mental health can take its toll on relationships

Postnatal depression in the non-birth partner can affect their relationship with the baby’s birth mother and also impact the relationship they have with their child. Partners may start to engage less with their children and/or talk more negatively about them. They also may sing and read less to their children or discipline them more harshly.

Postnatal depression in dads can also have an impact on the development of their child. Studies have shown that depression in partners can be associated with emotional, social and behavioural problems, as well as developmental delay in some children.

The association is stronger when a father experiences antenatal as well as postnatal depression, and when his symptoms are particularly severe. There is also a stronger association when mum also has mental health problems.

Treatment is available for all parents and caregivers involved

The treatment of paternal or partner postnatal depression is still in its early stages. However, there are currently options for treatment that mirror the treatment for birth mothers. 

Whether psychotropic medication is necessary, parents can also access talking therapy through the NHS, on top of any other treatment your local GP provides for those suffering from mental health issues.

Relationship counselling may also be useful, however the most important thing to do is share how you're feeling with the people closest to you. You're not alone, and support is readily available, when you need it.

Help is at hand

Screening for mental health issues during early parenthood is available for parents in the UK. Although you may associate screening more with physical illnesses, mental health diagnoses are slowly catching up, and GP practices are beginning to take mental health as seriously as it needs to be. 

If you’re concerned, book an appointment to see your GP, or call NHS 111.

And if I can help to relieve the pressure with baby’s sleep and YOUR sleep too, please get in touch. There’s not much I haven’t seen and heard during my three decades of helping families. I will not judge. I will support you through this. I promise. 

The first, the most important and the bravest step is asking for help. 

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