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The idea that new mothers can suffer from sudden depression is increasingly recognized by the medical community. But what about new fathers? Well, dozens of studies have suggested that new dads can also suffer the baby blues.
And NPR's Joanne Silberner reports that an ambitious new analysis of these studies confirms the connection.
JOANNE SILBERNER: We're not talking about the normal reactions to the stress of dealing with a new baby. We're talking about the kind of depression that hit Chris Hale(ph) of Athens, Georgia.
Mr. CHRIS HALE: You're supposed to be really happy when you have a baby and you're supposed to be joyful. And I just felt empty. I felt like there was something that was missing. I had a really hard time holding my daughter.
SILBERNER: Psychologist James Paulson of Eastern Virginia Medical School gathered up 43 surveys done around the world that asked new fathers and about-to-be fathers questions like: have you lost the ability to feel joy; has your appetite changed dramatically; are you able to engage with other people?
Paulson found the instance of depression was 10 percent in these fathers, about twice the normal rate and spiked to 26 percent when their children were three to six months old. Paulson says birth is tough psychologically.
Dr. JAMES PAULSON (Psychologist, Eastern Virginia Medical School): It takes a lot of work and a lot of coping to make it through that and maintain your mental health. So, certainly, that kind of stressful period can really activate vulnerabilities that people might have and (unintelligible) to have a lot of difficulty and have emotional problems like depression.
SILBERNER: The study was a meta-analysis, actually a compilation of studies, and, says Gregory Simon of the nonprofit group Health Research Institute, the results are convincing. He was not involved with the research.
Dr. GREGORY SIMON (Psychiatrist, Health Research Institute): The message that postpartum depression is an important problem among men, as well as among women, that seems to be clearly true.
SILBERNER: Many people suspect that women's postpartum depressions are due to hormonal changes, which leads to the conclusion that men wouldn't get it. But Paulson notes the hormonal connection isn't proven and new dads and moms have many of the same stressors.
Dr. PAULSON: Change in the relationship between mom and dad, financial stress, sleeplessness and fatigue, just a complete change in a role in life. So, going from a single person to a parent is a real shock and a real surprise to a lot of people. That certainly can affect fathers just like it can affect mothers.
SILBERNER: When mothers are depressed, fathers have a moderately higher risk of getting depressed themselves.
Joel Schwartzberg of Montclair, New Jersey didn't know what hit him after his baby boy came home from the hospital. The new father was extremely sad and hyperirritable. He gained 10 pounds eating doughnuts.
Mr. JOEL SCHWARTZBERG (Senior Producer, PBS): I didn't think of it as depression at the time. I really thought of myself as a failed father, as a -you know, that I had a flaw in my fatherhood gene that made it impossible for me to really bond and really enjoy the experience.
SILBERNER: Schwartzberg says he felt like a wrecking ball had hit him. By the time he realized he had a problem, his marriage had failed.
Researcher James Paulson says ignoring a father's depression could be bad news for the family.
Dr. PAULSON: This is really a dangerous and a problematic thing to ignore and to not recognize. And there's evidence that's growing now that suggests that depression in fathers is actually a problem for children and that it can negatively affect children and it can increase the risk of emotional and behavioral problems as they grow up, and it could increase the risk of psychiatric disorders.
SILBERNER: In a way, Paulson says, that's remarkably similar to if the mother has postpartum depression. Treatment depends on the severity of the depression. Sometimes just talking about it can help. Or, Paulson says, it could take drugs or group therapy or counseling.
Joanne Silberner, NPR News.
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