Symptoms of depression show up in 10-20% of pregnant and postpartum moms. Fathers can also experience depressive symptoms especially if their partners are struggling with a mood disorder.
How is depression treated in postpartum dads? I will start with psychotherapy interventions and then end with pharmacological treatment.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a popular treatment of depression by therapists. The theory says that when encountering stress we have negative thoughts that lead to emotions and then behaviors.
For example, a pregnant mom may read an article about birth defects and drinking caffeine. She may have the following thoughts: “my baby will have a birth defect because I drank coffee during pregnancy, I’m a bad mom, I have hurt my baby.”
These negative thoughts result in feelings of fear, shame, sadness, and disappointment. The mom may stop taking care of herself due to believing she has already done damage to her baby.
I help postpartum dads identify these negative thoughts and test their validity. I use Socratic questioning to challenge these thoughts.
Dads get good at identifying these thoughts, investigating their truthfulness, and ultimately modifying these thoughts. They feel relief, instead of dread and shame. They choose to continue to engage in self-care.
Attachment Theory is also a popular intervention for depression. Attachment Theory states that we grow up with a kind of attachment (insecure (avoidant/anxious), secure, or disorganized) to our primary caregivers.
If the attachment is secure we can leave our caregivers, explore the world, and return to a “secure base” when we feel overwhelmed.
If we have an insecure attachment to our primary caregivers, we may feel clingy with loved ones when separated or avoid getting close to loved ones. We have learned we do not have a secure base to return to when out in the world.
I work to develop an earned secure attachment with my perinatal clients. Dads can feel like they have a safe place to return when they feel stressed.
Dads feel that I am there for them, I am interested in their lives, and I respond in a way that feels soothing. They can share dark thoughts or feelings without fear of judgment, dismissal, or jumping to problem-solving instead of being there with them.
Dads feel a sense of security and are better able to handle life’s ups and downs. Their depressive symptoms may lessen during treatment.
There are pharmacological treatments postpartum dads. Anti-depressants such as SSRIs (Paxil) do come with side effects such as erectile dysfunction so be sure to weigh the pros and cons before starting treatment.
Doctors may prescribe an anti-depressant to help improve depressive symptoms. Medications may be discontinued if symptoms go into remission.
Sleep is a huge factor in depression. If dads are not sleeping well symptoms may be exacerbated. Doctors may prescribe sleep aids such as Vitamin B6, melatonin, or an anti-depressant with sedating side effects.
Dads are so important to child raising and a sad dad does have a detrimental effect on the family. Depression can be treated and improved.