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Pilot program aims to address the stress of new fatherhood

Paternal Postnatal Depression
Posted at 3:04 PM, Aug 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 15:04:47-04

CHICAGO, IL — We’ve long known that some women can experience postpartum depression. But there’s growing recognition that new fathers can experience stress, anxiety and even postpartum depression as well.

So far, little has been done to address the issue. But a first-of-its-kind pilot aims to address the often-overlooked mental health challenges men face after the birth of a child.

Nearly three years ago, Gabe and Raquel Cruz had their first child. But the joy of having little Jeremiah was quickly eclipsed for Raquel, who developed severe postpartum depression.

“It was debilitating. I felt like I couldn't function at all,” recalled Raquel. “I just felt like guilt for not feeling the joy and the happiness and the fairy tale. I felt like I was a failure as a mom, and a woman, and a wife.”

“You feel a little helpless,” said Gabe. “You can't help change her mood no matter what you do.”

Soon, Gabe, too, began feeling the crushing weight of new fatherhood while trying to help his wife navigate her stress.

“There is a stigma, in general, on the mental health of men and fathers, and it's really not talked about,” said Gabe.

While numerous studies have looked at risk factors, treatment, and the impact of postpartum depression in women, the condition is less understood in men. Raquel didn’t see it either.

“To be honest with you, no, I didn't. I was so caught up in my own survival that I didn't even think about what he was going through,” she said.

According to the American Medical Association, paternal postnatal depression affects up to 10% of men.

“I think that there is growing recognition that depression among fathers is a thing, said Darius Tandon, an associate professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University and corresponding author of a newly released study.

“Our ‘Fathers and Babies’ study is really an attempt to both improve the mental health of expectant fathers and new fathers."

The study is among the first to tackle stress and mental health that fathers face after the birth of a child, rather than focusing on co-parenting interventions.

“We really were trying to use tried and true cognitive behavioral techniques that we know are effective in preventing and treating depression and really build an intervention that was focusing specifically on addressing the mental health of fathers,” he said.

The study’s intervention provides new dads three months of weekly or biweekly sessions, with an advisor, to discuss three areas: engaging in pleasant activities, identifying and reframing unhelpful thoughts, and building a strong support network.

“I knew I was going through something, but the resources helped me vocalize it,” said Gabe, who took part in the study. “What's important about the resources, is that it helps you define it and it helps you correct it.”

Raquel took part in a similar program for women. It’s something that could become a model for mental healthcare providers across the country.

“If we can go through this, we can survive this darkness and not leave each other. I feel like we can go through anything,” she said.

Together, the Cruz family learned to lean on each other, ask for help and work through their darkest times, with joy on the other side.