I read an online article this week about a recent study revealing 4% of kiwi dads experience depression following the birth of a child. While it’s significantly lower than post-natal depression in mothers – it’s a confronting figure. Depression in dads is a real issue and one you hear little about.
As a little kid living near Auckland Harbour I used to go to a local boat house in the summer with my family, and sometimes friends, to jump from a pier into the water at high tide. Hidden away in the nook of a sleepy suburb, it was the type of place you’d only find if you knew about it. I liked it there.
At primary school one day word whipped around that the father of a girl in my class had died. Soon after it was revealed that he’d committed suicide – a totally new concept to me. I asked my mother why someone would do that, she told me that he was depressed, introducing a second new concept. ‘Suicide’ and ‘depression’ were little more than new words for my young mind, but it wasn’t the why that would have a lasting effect on me it was the how. Not long after, through playground chatter it was revealed the method of the man’s suicide was drowning. By securing weights to himself and jumping into the water from that same secluded pier. I never jumped off that pier again.
I grew up, and while I don’t feel like I’ve ever totally understood depression, I’ve never doubted its power. Anything that can cause a man with a family, a home and a life to leap into dark waters in the middle of the night with no desire to breathe again – is frightening.
I know there are a lot of other guys out there who don’t really ‘get’ what depression means and some that don’t believe in it as a genuine illness. But these are dangerous attitudes because, as we scoff at TV ads with John Kirwan in them and tell each other to take a cement pill, we might have a mate that desperately needs someone to reach out to.
This is even more relevant following the birth of a child, a uniquely challenging time of life for
any dude. I guess the most important thing we can do is recognise that it’s a time when we are more vulnerable to depression with weakened natural resistance.
But what are some of the reasons men can get depressed during this ‘special time’. Well, as someone who passed two from three sociology papers at Uni, and the owner of a poorly frequented dad blog – I’m adequately qualified to speculate.
As an illness depression can be contagious. With up to 15% of our ladies getting depressed after giving birth it’s no wonder there are a fair few men as well. Exactly how many depressed new dads also have a depressed partner I don’t know, but we all know that trying to reason with a hormonal, regularly crying woman can get a bro down some.
It’s a time when despite an additional person coming into our homes and our lives, we can still feel lonely. During the newborn phase Dads might feel distant from the close emotional bond that forms between mother and baby. Our bond isn’t as immediate and without being equipped for breast-feeding, we can’t share in the same physical bonding either. Combined with long periods of mother and baby snoozing, new dads can feel present but not part of it.
Being left out of the birthing process and early childcare system
Ever felt more useless in your life than watching your girl give birth? And the entire birth and postnatal care process is one that we can easily feel disassociated from. The formal medical care framework around birth in NZ focuses nearly entirely on mother and baby. At best we’re seen as a supportive but unneeded partner, at worst an unwelcome interference. Put it this way, how many questions were you asked by a medical professional during the process? And it doesn’t count when they slyly ask your misses if you’re abusive.
Grieving for your pre-baby lifestyle
After work drinks with the boys every Friday, and golf on Sundays, it was the high-life alright. And remember 10-hour online video gaming sessions and that one night stand you had with an Argentinian backpacker – well that good shit is probably over brother. Now, there are so many wonderful things to look forward to and enjoy along the way but some guys just can’t stop looking back and it makes them cry.
Your life was a twisting mountain pass and you were attacking it on a rumbling Harley Davidson without a helmet. Now, you’re piloting a mini-van on the speed limit through a flat, straight stretch of highway all the way to the horizon. That’s what it can feel like, and a lot of guys don’t realise the full gravity of their situation till a few months into newborn madness. They might feel trapped in their own lives, trapped in the stability of their current job, trapped in their relationship, and trapped by the new expectations on them. They feel like their entire future is now mapped out ahead of them. But it’s not, and mini vans can navigate mountain passes too.
It’s easy to speculate on the reasons behind depression in new fathers, but much harder to reach out to those dads that need help. It can also seem that for there is very little help available for the average middle-class kiwi guy. So look out for yourself, look out for your mates, if they’re new dads or not, and don’t be a “he should just harden up” D-bag. For more info on depression check out how JK throws down at: https://depression.org.nz/