Perinatal mental health – men

When you become a dad it’s normal to experience a complex range of emotions – from pride, excitement, and joy, to stress, anxiety and exhaustion. But if the negative feelings are overwhelming or stopping you from functioning normally you may be experiencing postnatal depression and/or anxiety, which affects one in 10 fathers.

Many men who experience postnatal anxiety and/or depression question whether their worries are worth voicing or think they need to support their partner and asking for help means they’re failing. However, your wellbeing can significantly impact the rest of your family, so it’s important to speak up instead of trying to suck it up.

Here’s what you need to know about perinatal anxiety and depression in men, and the signs that you might need support.


What are perinatal anxiety and depression?

Perinatal mental illness is any mental health condition that affects your mood, behaviour and wellbeing during the period from conception to a year after your child’s birth. These include perinatal anxiety and perinatal depression. These conditions can be mild, moderate, or severe; they can be temporary and treatable.

There are several things that increase a dad’s risk of developing perinatal mental illness. These include:

  • Previous experience with mental illness
  • A difficult or traumatic birth
  • Caring for a sick or premature baby
  • Having less practical, emotional or social support
  • Experiencing financial stress
  • Current or past experience with alcohol or drug misuse
  • Current or past experience of family violence
  • Major life or relationship difficulties
  • Caring for a partner experiencing symptoms of postnatal anxiety and/or depression
  • Parenting multiples

While perinatal anxiety and perinatal depression are two different conditions, there can be overlap in the symptoms and you can experience both at the same time. Symptoms of perinatal anxiety and perinatal depression can look different for each dad.  It’s important to note that the symptoms men are struggling can be different to the symptoms women experience.

You might also see people referring to “postnatal” depression and/or anxiety. This refers to the period after the birth of your child.

Perinatal anxiety

We all feel anxious sometimes, it’s part of our body’s natural response to a perceived threat. Preparing for and caring for a new baby is a life-changing experience and can involve plenty of moments of stress and anxiety, but these feelings usually go away once the stressful situation has passed. If the feelings don’t go away, they happen without a particular reason or they impact your daily life, it might be a sign of perinatal anxiety.

Symptoms of perinatal anxiety include:

  • Difficulty concentrating or focussing
  • Feeling unusually restless
  • Fear that something awful might happen
  • Excessive and generalised worry
  • Irritability
  • Panic attacks
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep problems (unrelated to baby’s sleep)
  • Appetite changes
  • Obsessive or compulsive behaviours
  • Other physical symptoms such as racing heartbeat, sweaty hands, fast breathing and nausea.


Perinatal depression

Ups and downs are common with new parenthood but prolonged changes to your mood could be a sign of perinatal depression.

“I'm someone who has a degree in psychology, but I didn’t recognise the symptoms of postnatal depression in myself straight away,” says Luke Rigby, 27, who experienced postnatal depression after the birth of his daughter Olive in 2018. “There were lots of sick days where I'd rather be at home, I struggled to get out of bed, increased weight, short fuse — a lot of the classic symptoms.”

‘Male-specific’ symptoms of perinatal depression include:

  • Irritability, anger, resentment, frustration, moodiness
  • Low impulse control
  • Using alcohol or drugs to ‘escape’ or cope

Additional symptoms of perinatal depression:

  • Constant tiredness or exhaustion
  • Loss of interest in things you usually enjoy
  • Appetite changes
  • Sleep problems (unrelated to baby’s sleep)
  • Changes to sex drive and desire for intimacy
  • Fear of looking after your baby, or avoiding caring for them
  • Feeling rejected by your partner as they focus on caring for baby
  • Emotional withdrawal from your partner, baby, family, friends
  • Not wanting to communicate with your loved ones
  • Feeling isolated and lonely
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide.


What to do if you’re experiencing symptoms of perinatal anxiety and/or depression

If you’re not feeling yourself for more than a couple of weeks, seek help soon so you can begin treatment and start feeling better.

“It took close to a year of my wife, who has a history of social anxiety and depression, telling me I was showing symptoms of depression and doing her best to support me and our newborn baby,” Luke says. “At least once a week she’d suggest I go chat to our GP and I'd be like, ‘No, I'm fine. I'm fine. It's all good.’ Then there might be a week or so where I make a conscious effort to pick up my game, but then there's always a relapse.”

Start by chatting with a doctor about the symptoms you’re experiencing, they can refer you to a psychologist or counsellor.

“I booked in for a 10-minute appointment and it took close to 45 minutes because I was just sobbing. I felt like I was not only letting myself down, but my wife and my daughter as well,” Luke says. “I was very real with my GP, and he was like, ‘This is what we can do to get better.’”

There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment for perinatal anxiety and depression but for Luke, it involved medication and support from friends and family.

“Being brutally honest with myself and with the people around me, saying, ‘Hey, this is me now,’ leads to better conversations and helps lighten the load,” he says.


Wondering if you’re struggling? Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA) has a mental health checklist you can go through here.

For further support, contact:

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