Sad Dads

We've all heard about mothers with postpartum depression -- but did you know that fathers can suffer from it too? Parents investigates an increasingly common condition, one very few men can bring themselves to discuss.
Father holding baby

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Rob Sandler expected his life to be different after the birth of his first child, Asher, now 4. What he wasn't expecting was the overwhelming sense of helplessness and despair that soon swamped him.

"I was gung-ho as soon as I found out we were having a baby," says Sandler, of Houston. "I went to all the ob-gyn appointments and ultrasounds with my wife. I wanted to be hands-on with everything. But a week after we brought Asher home, I snapped. What should have been the happiest time of my life turned into a complete nightmare."

An admitted type-A personality who was used to being in control, Sandler was terrified by the changes in his routine. "I knew that stupid stuff like watching TV, going on the computer, or taking a nap whenever I wanted was over -- that was expected. But I was worried that I'd never get back to my hobbies, my friends, my extended family. I felt trapped and started spending longer hours at work because I didn't want to come home and be guilty about the way I was feeling. I was a very involved dad, but I still felt like a zombie going through the motions. I would cry, sometimes uncontrollably. It was brutal, and I honestly didn't think it would ever get better."

Doctors talk to new moms about postpartum depression (PPD), and some celebrities, including Brooke Shields and Gwyneth Paltrow, have publicly described the ineffable sadness, mood swings, and paralyzing anxiety that gripped them after they gave birth. But even people well-versed in parenting issues may not know that fathers can experience this too. This is largely because men themselves don't want to talk about it. (Indeed, in all my years as a reporter, I've never had a harder time finding men willing to speak on the record than I did for this story.) And the fallout can affect not only a new dad but his marriage and his child as well.

A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 10 percent of men worldwide showed signs of depression, often referred to as paternal postpartum depression or PPPD, from the first trimester of their wife's pregnancy through six months after the child was born. The number spiked to a whopping 26 percent during the three- to six-month period after the baby's arrival. "That's more than twice the rate of depression we usually see in men," explains James F. Paulson, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Virginia, and lead author of the survey, which assessed 43 studies of more than 28,000 fathers worldwide. "The fact that so many expecting and new dads go through it makes it a significant public-health concern -- one that physicians and mental-health providers have largely overlooked," says Dr. Paulson. This is what experts understand about the causes, symptoms, and treatment.

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