This month, our Whole30 HMHB team is publishing resources and stories related to postpartum mental health. If you need immediate help, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is a free and confidential network of more than 140 crisis centers nationwide. It is available 24/7 to contact in a crisis at 1-800-273-8255. You can call for yourself or someone you care about.
For additional help, call Postpartum Support International’s warmline at 800-944-4773. You’ll get a return call within several hours. You can also visit their website www.postpartum.net. Click here to connect with your closest coordinator to get info, support, resources, and referrals to providers trained to treat PPD in your area.
A few months ago we ran a series related to Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders and how to support mama postpartum. A few of you wrote in to say, “Hey, what about us partners? We need support, too!” Today we are proud to be sharing information from Vanessa Park. She is on the board of Postpartum Support International (PSI), acting as their Chair of Public Awareness and Communications. She shares some statistics about postpartum mood disorders in the non-birthing partner and how to help support them.
Throughout this post, same-sex partners fall into the broad category of co-parent. Although Vanessa has worked specifically with dads, we acknowledge a diversity of partnerships and the need to support all parents postpartum.
Here’s more from Vanessa, in her own words.
Your Partner Needs Support Too…
I’ve been teaching classes for expectant dads for the past ten years and was thrilled to hit the milestone of teaching my thousandth dad in June of 2016. People frequently ask me for my top piece of advice on how to work best with new dads. I always tell them, “Do not for ANY reason tell these dads that their job is to support their partner.” Why? They almost certainly already feel that, keenly. What they need to hear is that they will need their own support beyond what their partner can provide.
The bottom line is that even in today’s world of Ergo-wearing, stay-at-home, “granola” dads whose partners might be out-earning them, the American cultural stereotype of the father as principally a protector/provider is as deeply-entrenched as ever, and dads tend to have real difficulty reaching out for a helping hand when they need it most.
Even while the national conversation about perinatal mental health issues such as postpartum depression and psychosis garners more attention, very few people are aware that 10% of all new dads—and throughout this blog, same-sex partners fall into the broad category of co-parent—experience symptoms of depression, and up to 18% of them experience clinically significant anxiety. Though I specialize in men’s issues, and talk here largely about how men deal with new parenting, same-sex partners need the same support to protect their health and well-being.
So, what do guys generally do when they experience anxiety or depression? They either “stuff” those feelings, ignore them and try to move on, or they engage in externalizing behaviors including drinking, drugs, gaming, porn, having affairs, going over-the-top with their exercise routines, and/or having angry outbursts.
…But He Might Not Ask For It
It’s a well-documented fact that men in general, and dads in particular, are hesitant to seek out mental health support. It’s less well-known that the number one predictor of a new father’s postpartum depression is when his partner has postpartum depression. Several meta-analyses of the research on men’s perinatal mental health disorders (PMADs) have shown that 50% of the time, when a mother becomes depressed, so does the father. The quality of the parents’ relationship plays a key role in the father’s emotional well-being. The research also shows that even though they may not be very good at seeking it out, dads need to have diverse sources of support in order to best navigate the transition to fatherhood.
So, what steps can be taken to ensure that your partner gets the support they need? First, if you’re a new mom dealing with mental health concerns, please be aware that there’s a 50% chance that your partner is, too, but isn’t talking about it in a productive way. If it’s hard for you to acknowledge what you are experiencing, know it is just as hard for them. If your partner is showing some of the common signs of depression including anger, isolation, and increased use of alcohol or substances, then encourage them to get some help.
Resources for Your Partner
The best scenario is having your partner connect with others who can relate to what they are experiencing, but the reality is that most postpartum groups and resources are set up with the birth mother in mind. At Postpartum Support International, we have a few resources for new dads. He can always drop in on the monthly “Dads Chat” conference call that I facilitate on the first Monday of every month. Another great resources is the “Brand New Fathers” closed Facebook page. The thoughtful folks at DadsApp have put together a ton of great guy-friendly support resources for dads. And of course, if your partner is having more severe difficulties, it’s critically important that he or she consults with an expert in perinatal mental health. PSI has volunteers across the country who can give you contact info for a perinatal mental health specialist you can contact.
Sometimes when a dad’s powers of denial are super strong and he refuses to talk with someone, the best route you might be able to take is to model the behavior that you want him to do. Namely, this means that you go talk to someone to get help for yourself. Doing so might help to keep the conversation moving about how the two of you can work together as partners. The research supports the point that one of the most important ways your partner can provide for their newly-expanded family is by providing the very best (meaning the healthiest) version of themselves!
So, even though the perinatal period might not turn out to be all rainbows and unicorns, the more you understand about some of the difficulties that your partner may experience, the more prepared you’ll be to understand the needs your partner and work toward a solution.
Vanessa Park is currently Director of Development, Communications, and Alumni Affairs at Dutchess Day School, a PreK-8th grade independent school in Dutchess County, New York. She also has her own freelance editing and ghostwriting business called VKP Editing. Until 2012, she had been an English teacher and writing instructor for 25 years. She has an MFA in writing from Columbia University and a BA from the University of Virginia. She is also a writer and blogger.
In addition to serving on the board of PSI, Vanessa sits on a board of the Berkshire Taconic Fund, the Quest Fund, dedicated to improving educational opportunities within local school districts.
Vanessa’s interest in women’s mental health is rooted in family history and goes back a long way. She has two grown children who, fortunately, also live in the northeast, and when she is not working, writing, or traveling with or to see her kids, she can be found dancing.
Photo: William Stitt