Trigger warning: Postnatal depression, including mentions of suicide, self harm and abusive behaviours.
Coping with the huge life changes and emotions of becoming a parent is nothing new. The whole transition from a loving romantic couple to a family unit is both an exciting and daunting process. However, this happy time can quite often become overshadowed by unwanted thoughts, feelings of helplessness and the dread that perhaps you’ve made the wrong choice.
Postnatal depression (PND) is becoming more and more documented, and offshoots of this affliction have risen to the public eye with depictions of postpartum psychosis in primetime soap operas and celebrities speaking out about their struggles with life after giving birth.
However, despite the statistics for women suffering from PND (more than 1 in 10 of new mums in the first year according to the NHS), not much has been mentioned in the media about PND in partners.
Bad partner or suffering in silence?
Visit any parenting forum online and you’ll find threads dedicated to “deadbeat” dads, partners who have had personality changes and are enacting selfish behaviour — from not helping with simple tasks with the baby to full-on up and leaving their family and home. Often the comments following a post are of support but peppered with snarky derision from anonymous commentators: “Leave the bastard”, “It’s his child too!”, “What a c**t!” have all been normal, and repetitive, responses to a myriad of dilemmas facing a hormonal, vulnerable new parent who has just given birth.
But PND in partners it can manifest itself in other ways. They throw themselves into parenthood but develop strained relationships with their partners and families in other fashions, accusing their partner of not being good enough, attacking their self-worth, and starting a cycle of gaslighting their partner and those around them.
But are these individuals really just “being d*cks” so to speak? Or is this just an instance, in a long line of similar mental health issues, that is being overlooked due to society and its views?
With a similar statistic of 1 in 10 men reported from the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and an even higher rate with lesbian co-mothers than in heterosexual women, it’s shocking that these instances of documented PND are not more widely spoken about.
Much like PND in people who have given birth, not much is known about the triggers that lead to it developing in partners. Signs and symptoms can vary in range and severity.
Symptoms can include:
- Feelings of low self-worth, malaise and lethargy
- Insomnia or sleeping more than normal
- A lack of interest in things that would normally be pleasurable
- Irrational behaviour
- Panic attacks
- Lack of attachment and interest with the baby and family members
- Self-harm and suicidal thoughts
Often, many of these symptoms can be brushed off as the sleep deprivation and exhaustion of having a newborn, and many parents play down symptoms, feeling like their own needs are less paramount than the child’s.
“Much of the attention befalls the person who has given birth and baby in the first instance.”
With many, the crux of the matter lies with sympathy. The whole process of conception, pregnancy, birth and the initial bonding and feeding process is focused on the person who has given birth. This means many health services and help outlets are geared up towards what they are feeling and much of the familial attention befalls the person who has given birth and baby in the first instance. For a partner who has been the centre of the person who has given birth’s life for any period, an adjustment is expected and with that comes opportunities for mental health to be affected.
On top of that, any new parent will testify that the “fourth-trimester” involves a great amount of attachment to the person who has given birth from the baby. The baby themselves may seem to reject other caregivers with a preference for the person who gave birth to them. Although this is normal, and part of the baby’s survival instinct, this can leave a lot of partners feeling pushed out. This can often mean that they start to question their own importance and role within their family, acting out and reverting to selfish behaviours. Even the strongest of relationships and the most chilled out babies will cause a huge amount of change.
Many people who have recently given birth will be extremely conscious as well of how much their own social life and interactions have changed. Whether it’s a feeling of “Fear of missing out” FOMO or the pressure to look and be a certain way, often they will project their stresses onto their partner which can lead to a confusing and painful strain on any relationship – no matter how strong.
What is being done about it?
There are a number of organisations that represent and address the topic of parental mental health and although many of them are focused on the person who has given birth in the first instance, they are increasingly highlighting the issues affecting all parents within the family.
Very much like any type of mental health issue or depression, it’s not simply a case of “getting over it”.
The first course of action if you believe you or your partner is suffering is to contact your local GP. There are also a number of organisations such as PANDAS and Mind who offer support and resources on identifying and addressing PND. There also a number of forums and websites that offer a space to speak such as The Dad Network and the LGBT Parents section on Mumsnet.
It’s only by looking deeper into the reasons behind unusual behaviour and the true motivations can we not only help those suffering but also start a dialogue for the future and continue to break down the walls surrounding mental health.