Tackling post-natal depression: the baby blues can strike men too

New fathers are less likely to seek help if feeling anxious and depressed

2 year old being held in dad's arms while looking down. Getty Images

No, it isn't political correctness and gender equality gone mad – men really do suffer from Paternal Post-Natal Depression (PPND). And it is time people started talking more openly about the ways in which new fathers are affected, according to the Priory Wellbeing Centre Dubai. To get the discussion rolling, it is holding dedicated workshop sessions on post-natal depression for both men and women, at its centre on Oud Metha road, near Healthcare City.

Many of us will be familiar with the Priory name, probably in the context of celebrities in the United Kingdom checking in for treatment for their addictions. But this is only one aspect of the services it offers, says Dr Walid Abdul-Hamid, clinical director and consultant psychiatrist at the Dubai branch of the Priory, which opened in April.

“We cover the whole spectrum and our centre in Dubai is the Priory’s first outside the UK – we’re very excited to be here,” he says. “The standards of care we adhere to are exactly the same as those experienced by patients in the UK.”

As recently reported by The National, the UK branch of the Priory has carried out an extensive survey on new fathers, and the anxiety and feelings of despair and depression that many suffer from. And though the research was carried out elsewhere, Maartje Suijskens, a resident counselling psychologist at the Priory, says it is "representative of trends that we see in other parts of the world, including the UAE".

According to the poll, one man in 10 claims to have had “negative thoughts” after having children, while one in 15 said they believed they were suffering from PPND. Worryingly, up to half the men who experienced depression or anxiety didn’t seek help, saying they were too embarrassed, because they believed that they should be happy.

“Research from the American Medical Association,” says Suijskens, “shows that PPND affects up to 10 per cent of new fathers throughout the world. It is likely that the numbers are even higher as fathers suffering with depression are less likely to seek help. While there are no specific statistics regarding the rates of PPND in the UAE, the pressure on expat fathers can be just as significant, if not higher.”

Suijskens says those pressures often result from being at a distance from friends and family, and many fathers face extra burdens by being the primary provider, both financially and emotionally. “And it’s been proved that the influence of a father in the development of children is equal to that of the mother, so it’s imperative that, if they’re suffering from depression, they seek the right help,” says Suijskens.

Abdul-Hamid adds: “Men have always viewed talking about their emotions as a weakness, but it’s becoming clear that being open about this, like women usually are, is better for them. Women are normally happy to talk to their friends, their doctors, and are more ready to seek help through therapy. Men, though, tend to ‘self-medicate’ with alcohol and unfortunately seek help only when it’s too late.

“We need to catch these problems earlier and deal with them, as we would with physical ailments – psychiatrists don’t bite, you know.”

What, then, can we as a society do to get this into the open, to be able to banish the stigma associated with male anxiety? “We are working on getting the issues recognised,” says Suijskens, “but we’re not seeing a change just yet. We need to get the right information into the hands of new parents. For instance it could be provided at the hospital following the birth – we [doctors and psychologists] need to work together on this.

“There is an issue here, too, with health insurance. Most insurance companies either do not cover mental health at all or they will provide only partial coverage for selected diagnoses, as well as selected treatment. This significantly contributes to the negative stigma and misconceptions around mental health.”

The two say that new fathers may well be aware that “something’s not right” with them, but that they’re unlikely to link this to possible PPND. Suijskens says that having a baby is “a life-changing experience” that presents no shortage of challenges, advising that in the weeks and months following the birth, it’s important for both parents to communicate with each other, as well as with family and friends, and to be open and honest about their emotions. The worst thing, she says, that new parents can do is to bottle everything up and hope the feelings of despair will go away of their own accord.

Abdul-Hamid says fathers can experience post-traumatic stress disorder after the birth of a child, especially if the mother has gone through complications. The peer pressure that new parents experience to always be happy – because a baby is a blessing, after all – can also be damaging.

So, what signs should we look for in our friends, colleagues or family members who might be suffering without knowing it? According to the Priory, if you have serious depression you might feel exhausted and anxious, be obsessed with finances, start to withdraw from relatives, be irritable and intolerant, or sleep badly. If that reads like you or someone you know, it’s time to act.

The Priory Wellbeing Centre Dubai is holding free post-natal depression workshops on December 9, from 10am to 12pm. See www.priorygroup.ae


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