You’ve joined forces and tied the knot, in the name of holy matrimony. And now, baby makes three (or four or five). Marriage brings with it challenges of its own; adding a baby to the mix can further disrupt harmonious functioning. Postpartum depression and divorce are linked and postpartum depression may be to blame. Postpartum depression is no longer reserved solely for women; research suggests men too can struggle with postpartum depression all their own.
Known also as paternal postnatal depression, studies as recent at 2010 suggest that as many as one in ten men struggle with depression following the welcome of a new child into their lives. Truth is, the rates may be much higher as countless men struggle without seeking professional support. While depression itself may not be the culprit for trouble in a relationship or for divorce for that matter, the ripple effect of resulting behaviors triggered by depressive symptoms can place strains on a relationship and divorce may seem the only option.
Postpartum Depression and Divorce
Symptoms of postpartum depression mirror those of major depressive disorder. The onset of the symptoms, dubbing the name ‘postpartum depression’ follow the addition of a child (through birth, adoption or fostering) to the family dynamic. The most common symptoms of depression, per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th Edition, include:
- Feelings of sadness, worthlessness, hopelessness, and/or guilt; most days, for nearly the entire day
- Changes in sleep patterns (difficulty sleeping or desire to sleep all the time)
- Extreme fatigue, and loss of energy
- Difficulty concentrating and/or indecisiveness
- Restlessness and/or irritability
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Changes in eating habits that result in either weight loss or gain
- Recurrent thoughts of death
Professionals working closely with men who struggle with depression – whether postnatal or not – identify some symptoms that seem to be unique to men that include:
- Feelings of anger, frustration and irritability that may include conflict with others (violent or non-violent)
- Isolating from family and friends
- Tendency to work longer hours
- Increased use of substances (alcohol and/or other drugs)
- Risk-taking and impulsive behavior
Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression
You might be wondering what may put you at higher risk for struggles with postpartum depression and divorce. The following variables are all contributors:
- A previous personal history of depression: If depression is something you’ve struggled with previously, for whatever reason, even if you conquered that mountain and moved on, you are at higher risk of depressive symptoms returning. Additionally, a family history of depression may also increase your risk of developing depression yourself.
- Strained relationships: Tension within relationships, including with your partner, parents, in-laws, and friends set the stage for depressive symptoms to occur. Everyone has a unique opinion on how to raise children, right? Inability to agree with your partner or filter through the ‘suggestions’ from friends and family (yours or hers) can create insurmountable tension within your marriage. Add to it, strained relationships with friends and family can lead to further isolation and limited access to much needed support.
- Extreme fatigue due to lack of sleep: Babies sleep a lot. In theory, sleep shouldn’t be hard to come by with baby snoozing 16-20 hours per day. The trouble is babies don’t always sleep for long durations of time, for a variety of reasons. So, when baby is awake often through the night and you struggle to return to sleep yourself, or there are other variables keeping you awake (i.e. stress), sleep can become extremely hard to come by. An extremely fatigued adult has less capacity to tolerate or deal with the curveballs of life productively which can further strain relationships and now a vicious cycle has begun.
- Lack of support: Humans were created as social beings, and support from friends and family is essential. Particularly during significant life changes like adding a child into your mix. Whether the support is hands on (giving you and your partner a much needed break), or emotional (allowing you an opportunity to vent, their normalizing your experience and re-assuring you to the best of their ability that you CAN do this, etc.).
Trying to take on too much yourself and declining invitations for help, or being isolated creates an environment in which depression can thrive.
- Limited economic resources: We hear all the time that “money isn’t everything”. While we know that to be true, it’s also reasonable to admit that having money <versus not> sure makes things easier. If you were strapped financially prior to your child being born, or if the strain hit with the additional expenses that came alongside baby, economic challenges can place an incredible burden on a marriage. Adjusting to parenting a new baby brings with it challenges enough. The additional stress of wondering how the mortgage will be paid, if you’ll be able to scrape together enough to keep the lights and heat on, or how food will land on the table (and diapers on that sweet babe’s bottom) can – and in many cases WILL – contribute heavily to the onset of depression.
- Hormonal changes: That’s right fellas. Hormonal changes happen for you during and after your partner’s pregnancy, too! Not only do they change but they fluctuate, which, you might remember is one of the reasons puberty is so darn hard for teens (and perhaps even harder on their parents). During pregnancy estradiol (hormone found in higher levels in females) increases, and testosterone (hormone found in higher levels in men) decreases for males. Just before birth testosterone fluctuates, and increases, but shortly after birth drops once again. Add to it the fluctuation of the stress hormone cortisol (which drops during pregnancy, rises just before birth, and drops again after birth…only to rise again as stress and tensions grow).
Fluctuating hormones (for both partners) before, during and after birth creates a recipe for depression.
- Non-traditional family structure: parenting alongside your partner is hard enough, but when the family structure resembles something less than traditional, the risk is higher for additional stress, leading to depression. Co-parenting first thing out the gate, without any opportunity to first learn together under the same roof can lead to lots of confusion and disagreement about common goals for parenting the new little one. Plus, bonding opportunity is limited when time is shared between two parents living in separate residences (with dad likely taking more back-seat time to mom as a primary caregiver, at least initially). Add to all of it that living separately means limited resource to share the burden with one parenting having to shoulder it all until baby spends time with the other parent.
All these risk factors work in tandem to increase risk of postpartum depression and divorce. While all factors set a person at higher risk, everyone is uniquely designed with different thresholds for tolerating and navigating these factors. It’s also important to know that risk factors don’t necessarily mean postpartum depression will develop. Rather, it’s just wise to be aware of the factors that may exist and to act when/if a problem is suspected.
Seeking Help for Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is not forever, nor does it have to be a contributor to a failed marriage. Depression is easily treatable via several avenues:
- Talk therapy: talk therapy can help an individual verbally process through the events and associated thoughts and feelings, as well as help an individual learn invaluable healthy coping skills. A professional can also make further recommendations for support and point you in the right direction to access services s/he doesn’t provide.
- Medications: antidepressants are an option, most often in conjunction with talk therapy, for helping an individual get in front of the depression that is wreaking havoc on their life. Get the skinny on medications for treating depression prior to a visit with your doctor with this article published by the National Institute of Mental Health.
- Natural Remedies: if medications aren’t really your thing and you’re not sure how you feel about talk therapy, there are a host of natural remedies in existence that are proven to aid in elevating mood. A healthy diet, exercise and adequate sleep are just for starters. Read more on WebMD for additional natural remedy options.
- Crisis Resources: if you or someone you know is a risk to themselves or others due to a mental health condition, do not hesitate to outreach to either local or national crisis resources for immediate support. The national suicide prevention hotline can be accessed by dialing 1-800-273-8255, or you can visit them on the web for additional information.
Get your marriage back on track after baby makes three (or four or five) with an understanding of postpartum depression risk factors, symptoms and options for support. For both you and your partner. As the saying goes “this too shall pass” and there are indeed happier days ahead.