Anxiety in New Fathers May Be More Common Than Previously Reported

Key points to remember

  • Researchers find that anxiety among new fathers is much more prevalent than commonly reported.
  • Anxiety affects both new mothers and fathers, and clinical attention should be focused on all parents, clinicians say.
  • Toxic conceptions of masculinity may play a role in parenting anxiety.

Mental health problems among new parents are common; many have heard of the difficulties of postpartum depression in mothers, for example. However, a new study suggests that while attention is to continue to focus on maternal health, the well-being of fathers should not be neglected.

Researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health and the University of Colorado have found that anxiety rates in new fathers are likely higher than reported by the World Health Organization (WHO). These results, including more than 40,000 people over a 25-year period, suggest that “the transition to parenthood may put men at greater risk for anxiety,” the authors write. The meta-analysis was published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology end of February.

Daniel Singley, PhD, a San Diego-based psychologist who was not involved in the study, tells Verywell that the research underscores the need for a more comprehensive approach to mental health in new parents. “I would really like to see a shift from maternal and paternal mental health to parental health,” he says. “Mental health that takes gender into account and pays homage to the fact that the transition to parenthood, or even the transition to someone mourning the loss of a baby, is not limited by gender.

What this means for you

If you are a new parent, or are expecting, and suffer from anxiety and depression, contact a mental health professional for help. SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour service, 365 days a year, information service, in English and Spanish, for people and their family members facing mental disorders and / or related to substance use. They can refer you to local treatment centers, support groups and community organizations.

Difference in prevalence

The WHO estimates that anxiety disorders affect between 2.2 and 3.8% of men. The researchers wanted to see if this statistic held up against other studies examining anxiety in men, but specifically related to the perinatal period.

“The transition to parenthood is a major life event that often comes with new challenges related to financial, relationship and work-life balance issues,” said Jenn Leiferman, PhD, professor at the Colorado School of Public Health and author of the press study. Release. These changes happen for both men and women when they are expecting a baby, she adds, but little is known about anxiety related to men. “To our knowledge, our study is the first meta-analysis to explore the prevalence rates of anxiety among fathers and mothers during the perinatal period.”

Leiferman and his colleagues looked at studies from 1995 to 2020 involving more than 40,000 people. When they analyzed men’s anxiety rates at the birth of a child, they noted that it was higher than the WHO estimate by seven percentage points – from 9.9 to 11. % of all males. Additionally, men’s anxiety rates tended to be lower during a partner’s pregnancy, but increased by more than two percentage points in the first year postpartum to 11.7%.

Bringing attention to this discrepancy between WHO data and studies on anxiety, the authors note, could encourage more discussion about the mental health and anxiety of new fathers and help them seek care.

This study does not, however, aim to minimize the struggles of women during the perinatal period; the researchers found that about 17.6% of women experience anxiety during this time. On the contrary, adds Leiferman, it raises awareness of the mental health issues of both parents. “The prevalence of anxiety and depression in men is less talked about as a society, although research shows that men are more likely to kill themselves or abuse alcohol than women,” he said. she declared. “It is important to create more transparency on men’s mental health issues.”

New dads in therapy

Singley is happy to see a study highlighting men’s mental health issues during the perinatal period. “It’s like the worst kept secret,” he says. “You see a lot more anxiety than depression.”

However, depression, Singley adds, tends to gain more media attention because of its connection to suicidal thoughts. “And so, mortality and lethality tend to be what briefly headlines and fundraising,” Singley says.

In her therapeutic work, Singley finds that many men have a relationship with anxiety that is not well represented or understood. “We are directly socialized to believe that [experiencing anxiety] is a weakness, “he says.” So having anxiety means that you are weak and that you feel vulnerable. And if you take the traditional guy box perspective, you can’t let anyone know and you just have the power. ”

This experience of anxiety during the perinatal period, Singley says, can play out in a number of ways. In more than 15 years of working with clients, he has worked with many fathers who have acute stress disorder, a predecessor of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), particularly in the first six months of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). -partum.

Daniel Singley, PhD

If we as a society can make the changes necessary to socialize boys so that they are healthier, then we don’t have to mend broken men and fathers.

– Daniel Singley, PhD

Many men who experience this stress can cope, get therapy, and move on, but others cannot. This applies to all types of perinatal experiences – stillbirth, maternal death, infant death, and medically uncomplicated procedures.

“It is very often the experience of, they know that they have no control over the situation, they are completely terrified and overwhelmed with fears for the baby, for their partner, for themselves, for their life” , he said. “And they can’t leave the situation. In a way, like these are all coming together.”

When people think of PTSD, they may not associate the condition with parenthood, but Singley says these perinatal experiences are enough to lead to anxiety disorder in some men. He often sees fathers who self-medicate with alcohol and video games while isolating themselves.

“They have nightmares. They break up. They strongly avoid triggers,” Singley says. “And that’s what often brings these fathers into my office: the baby is the trigger for their PTSD and they avoid the baby.”

The importance of conversation

Experts hope this research can help garner media attention and funding for research into male anxiety, ultimately lowering barriers such as stigma and misconceptions of masculinity.

“Tell someone ‘masculinity’, and maybe it’s already filled with toxic,” Singley says. “It’s such a shame because there are now solid studies underway on healthy masculinity and positive masculinity.”

In order to achieve healthy masculinity, Singley says we have to start early. “If we as a society can make the changes necessary to socialize boys so that they are healthier, then we don’t have to mend broken men and fathers,” he says.

These socialization skills, Singley adds, involve teaching boys not to shut down emotionally and to navigate intimacy in platonic, romantic relationships. “To be able to say what they feel – the good, the bad and the ugly, and not teach them that it is weak.”

It’s also important to keep in mind, he adds, that the current generation of new fathers are held to a higher standard than any other generation of fathers before – now it is not as socially acceptable to working and being emotionally absent. This second piece must be there too. “But we, as a society, haven’t really found a place for the respect that comes with it,” says Singley, “So that always activates their insecurity of being female because we’ve feminized the role of parenting infants. . ”

The evolution of masculinity comes slowly, says Singley. And the only way forward is to build a solid foundation, he adds, referring to a quote from Frederick Douglass: “It’s easier to build strong boys than to mend broken men.”

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