Male Postnatal Depression – overcoming gender stereotypes
by Tina Juhl
January 17th 2007
last updated January 18th 2007
How to Overcome Gender Stereotypes
Information is essential in order to overcome gender stereotypes concerning postnatal depression. This also means spreading the news to make more and more people aware of and familiar with the fact that men may also suffer from postnatal depression.
When discussing fathers and postnatal depression it is always important to underline the fact that helping the father will support the family as a whole. Conversely, it may be said that taking a holistic view of the family right from the beginning – which means from pregnancy onwards– promotes gender equality and makes it much easier to discover fathers in need of special help.
Information may be considered part of useful preventive measures both at a personal and at healthcare level.
What can the father and his partner do themselves to prevent postnatal depression?
Men (and women) who are about to become parents can be advised to reflect on:
- Their personal experiences with care, their own relations to their parents, their own experiences of childhood
- Their imminent parenthood and the division of the new family roles this will engender
- How sharing parenthood will affect their relationship as a couple
- How to share responsibilities and practical tasks
Through reflection and especially through conversation with others they may come to terms with their relationship to their own parents as well as with their past and current life. The minute the baby is born, many parents feel it difficult to make time to talk to each other and tempers run shorter. Hence it is a good idea to be as well prepared as possible for the coming challenges of parenthood. Some favour going through this process of reflection alone, others prefer sharing it with their partner, a family member, a good friend or a psychologist.
Important preventive elements that may be offered by the healthcare system include:
- Directly inviting fathers to pregnancy-related examinations, visits to the GP with the infant etc.
- Offering fathers assistance in preparing for their new role during pregnancy, childbirth and early fatherhood
- Addressing the importance of parent/child-relationships at antenatal classes
Professional help for fathers may mean simply seeing them; talking to them, and listening to them. In conjunction with knowledge of fathers’ possible symptoms this facilitates early assistance, thereby shortening this difficult period for the whole family. Likewise, it is important to integrate knowledge on men and mood disorders into prenatal courses (link to BP1).
Special information and training are useful for helping prepare professionals for this work (see this website Best Practice 2). In Denmark, information leaflets on men and postnatal depression have been sent to all GPs, health visitors and doctors/nurses/midwives at obstetric- and gynaecological-wards (See leaflet).
As mentioned earlier the identification of all kinds of depression among men becoming fathers is especially important since this is a very vulnerable period for most families and children of fathers with postnatal depression have a greater risk of suffering emotional and behavioural difficulties.
In order to develop an assessment that identifies all fathers suffering from depression – including those whose symptoms differ from the traditional symptoms of depression– future research should focus on developing more precise assessments including the male-specific symptoms. One goal should be the development of screening tools for postnatal depression that include both men and women since ‘male symptoms’ occur in women too and many men suffer ‘traditional’ symptoms of depression. Such a tool would be another step towards gender equality when it comes to discovering and helping parents suffering from postnatal depression.
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