Infertility, pregnancy loss, and the birth of a child all have profound but varying effects on a person’s mental health.
The complicated grief following a perinatal loss or unsuccessful fertility treatment can be overwhelming for prospective parents – these events are linked to major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
New parenthood can involve the onset of postpartum depression, leading to shame and guilt that compound already difficult mental health symptoms.
While the focus on a suffering family may be shifted more toward the mother, both partners experience trauma related to miscarriage, infertility, and new parenthood. Non-birthing parents may be more reluctant to seek help or educate themselves on the symptoms of conditions like postpartum depression.
Here’s what to know about men’s mental health and fatherhood.
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Postpartum Depression in Men
As many as 10% of new fathers report becoming depressed before or shortly after the birth of their child, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is marked by bouts of extreme sadness, mood changes, and feeling overwhelmed that last weeks or months after the birth of a child. PPD in fathers and non-birthing parents is often caused by a sudden shift in bodily, social, and psychological dynamics. Lack of sleep, family-related worries, and a sudden loss of independence may all contribute to postpartum depression in both men and women. Hormonal changes in men may independently serve as a factor in mood changes.
Men don’t always experience postpartum depression alongside their partner, and depression in new fathers can begin during the pregnancy and increase after their child is born.
New fathers and other partners are less likely to see a mental health care professional about their concerns and — without the assistance of therapy or medication — peripartum depression in fathers and partners can have lasting effects on a person’s family, relationship, and social circle. Men with a history of depression or other mental illness may be at greater risk of postpartum depression.
Depression symptoms following the birth of a child may present differently in men. They include:
- Anger or aggression.
- Feeling irritable, discouraged, hopeless, or overwhelmed.
- Overworking to avoid returning home.
- Loss of interest in hobbies.
- Distance from family or friends.
Adjusting to being a new parent is a process, but if you or your partner are feeling unsustainably overwhelmed for more than 2 weeks, it’s time to seek help from a counselor.
It’s also important to take time for yourself, eat and sleep well whenever possible, and avoid risky behaviors like gambling and drinking. Sharing your feelings with your partner or a trusted loved one can help too.
Grief After Miscarriage
Miscarriage is a common and often painful experience for the pregnant person and their partner, but a person whose partner has suffered a miscarriage may feel too guilty to talk about their own pain.
Refusing to communicate and acknowledge their grief as a couple can put further strain on their relationship and can prompt someone to act recklessly to suppress their feelings.
Studies indicate that men report feelings similar to women following a pregnancy loss – trauma, shock, stress, anxiety, depression, and grief.
A study conducted by the University of College London and the Miscarriage Association found that of 160 partners of women who miscarried, 58% said they struggled to concentrate, 47% reported sleeping problems, and 48% said the pregnancy loss affected their work.
Men struggle with feelings of loss and inadequacy, especially if they’re unsure how to support their partner after a pregnancy loss.
Women and men may respond to a miscarriage differently. By freely sharing their feelings and asking what their partner needs during this time, non-birthing partners can keep the relationship strong while working through their own trauma.
Recommendations for both men and women grieving the loss of a pregnancy as a couple are:
- Commemorate your loss in a personalized way.
- Accept different coping mechanisms.
- Be kind to each other; listen to and respect each other’s feelings.
- Talk to other trusted loved ones.
- Get professional support.
Fertility Issues and Fatherhood
Infertility affects millions of people, and can take a heavy toll on emotional, physical, and mental health.
How men cope with infertility shouldn’t be overlooked. If they’re struggling to support a partner with infertility, they may feel unprepared to support that partner while grappling with their own feelings of loss, sadness, and uncertainty.
Men facing personal infertility may feel guilty, inadequate, and afraid to navigate possible treatments while mourning the loss of what they may feel is a “normal” path to fatherhood.
One study of couples visiting a fertility clinic revealed that half of women and 15% of men said infertility was the most upsetting experience of their lives.
Relationships can suffer if both partners are not openly and honestly communicating. Men may feel uncomfortable expressing their feelings of inadequacy, and instead become suddenly angry or withdrawn. Sexual issues like erectile dysfunction and low libido may surface alongside a diagnosis of male infertility as feelings of shame and the medical nature of treatments strain relationship intimacy.
General symptoms of infertility-related mental health issues are:
- A loss of interest in everyday activities.
- Persistent depression.
- Strain in your personal relationships.
- High anxiety.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- A marked increase or decrease in your appetite and weight.
- An increase in your use of drugs or alcohol.
- Thoughts of death or suicide.
- Social isolation.
- Persistent feelings of pessimism, guilt, worthlessness
- Irritability, bitterness, or anger
Depending on your mental health condition and needs, doctors may recommend:
- Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications for moderate to severe symptoms. Before prescribing medications, your physician will consider how the medications may interact with any fertility drugs. The vast majority of psychiatric medications can be used during infertility treatments
- One-on-one or group counseling.
- Light therapy, exercise therapy, or other alternative options to help you manage your condition.
About UPMC Magee-Womens
Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.
Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.