Recognizing Postpartum Depression in Dads

Recognizing Postpartum Depression in Dads

Recognizing Postpartum Depression in Dads

Alan-Michael Graves, EdD

There isn’t a clear set of diagnostic criteria for dads experiencing major mental health shifts after the birth of their baby. But Alan-Michael Graves, EdD, who heads up learning and capacity building programs at Good+ Foundation in Los Angeles, says he sees new fathers struggling in silence with unrecognized postpartum depression.

The science of paternal postpartum depression is relatively new. What we know so far is that postpartum depression in dads is influenced by the many of the same factors as postpartum depression in moms: hormonal changes, social and emotional shifts, sleep deprivation, financial challenges, and a history of depression. And that the symptoms can be just as devastating to well-being.

Good+ works in low-income communities where families need extra support, and it provides culturally sensitive support services to the dads in its network. But Graves notes that, like postpartum depression in mothers, the paternal version doesn’t discriminate: It happens to fathers on all socioeconomic levels, of all races, and of all backgrounds.

A Q&A with Alan-Michael Graves, EdD

Where does paternal postpartum depression come from?

In our community-based programs working with pregnant women, we noticed a lot of soon-to-be fathers and new fathers are extremely stressed out. For all kinds of reasons: He used to be just a guy, but now he’s a father. He’s worried about financially supporting his family. He used to be responsible only for himself and his partner, and now there’s their child, too. He wants to parent differently from how he was parented, but he’s never had anybody to talk to about it. Sometimes he’s unable to manage all that. And while everybody’s focusing on how the mom’s life has changed, not many people are asking, “What’s going on with you?”

How do you recognize that a father might have postpartum depression?

Isolation. Withdrawal. And masking the depression with something else. A lot of these guys volunteer to work more so they don’t have to be home around wife and kids. Substance abuse and infidelity are also signs that they’re running from their depression and the challenges of parenting.

How do you talk to dads about postpartum depression?

Fathers never know that what they’re facing is paternal postpartum depression. And you can’t just come to men—especially men in communities of color, where there’s still often a strong stigma around mental health—and say, “I think you have postpartum depression.” Because first, we don’t want to make them feel that we’re calling them crazy. And if you tell them first thing that they have postpartum, they’ll be like, “That’s for girls.”

So we start by talking about the impact on your life of being new parents—the stressors, the challenges. Only halfway through the course do we mention that the name for what they’re going through is paternal postpartum depression, and that it is common. We normalize it. I tell them about what I went through when I was a new dad. And we focus on peer support. If you can get a guy in a room full of other guys who are going through similar situations, he realizes it’s not just him. He becomes more open to having conversations about how he feels, and he’s more apt to implement tools to get better.

And we do see fathers get better. I keep doing this because we see light bulbs go off. We see dads reunified with their families. And most importantly, we watch their healthy relationships with their children grow over time. We just took a group of guys who have been part of our fatherhood programs for four or five months out to a Dodgers game together, and they brought their kids—kids I usually only hear about. And watching them interact with those children makes me want to continue doing this forever.


Alan-Michael Graves, EdD, is the senior director of learning and capacity building at Good+ Foundation.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.

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