Study Underlines the Need for Greater Awareness of Male Postnatal Health

It is only relatively recently that society has been able to recognise and talk openly about postnatal depression in women. This is undoubtedly progress; however, a new study suggests that there is still significant work to be done when it comes to diagnosing and acknowledging the condition in men.

In fact, the researchers from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge say that postnatal mental health disorders should be considered as a possibility for both male and female parents and that they can occur during any of the twelve months immediately following the birth of a baby.

The study came about as a response to one scientist’s own personal experience; Viren Swami, who led the research, said that he began the project after suffering from the condition following the birth of his child.

“Once I was diagnosed, I wanted to do more research into it and find out why so many people, like myself, think that men can’t get postnatal depression,” Swami told Reuters.

The study adds to a growing body of evidence that postnatal mental health disorders are common among fathers; one recent study found that one in four men developed the condition within three to six months of becoming fathers.

The study’s focus – recognising postnatal depression in men

The study found that people are more willing to recognise symptoms of postnatal depression in women than in men who are reporting the same symptoms.

The researchers used 406 volunteers to read identical situations in which typical postnatal depression symptoms were being reported; observers were then asked for their views on whether anything was wrong with the person concerns. When a woman reported the symptoms, 97 percent said something was wrong, but when a man read the symptoms, only 79.5 percent reported something as wrong.

Furthermore, 90.1 percent correctly identified postnatal depression as the problem in women, while only 46.4 percent did so for the men, with many attributing symptoms in men to stress, tiredness, feeling neglected or the transient and non-clinical “baby blues”.

The fact that society at large has trouble even recognising postnatal depression in men means that the problem risks becoming a silent mental health epidemic; quite simply, if men cannot be seen as struggling, they are going to have trouble recognising the condition in themselves and in seeking help from family, friends and mental health professionals.

The invisibility of the condition in men also means that many may be ashamed and reluctant to step forward and seek help, even when they realise they need it.

A number of studies have shown that increasing awareness of postnatal depression in women improves outcomes; the same is likely to be true for men. The government and health service providers should take note.