Anxiety and depression in new dads

And while anxiety during pregnancy and after the birth of a baby isn’t as well recognised as depression, we know it’s likely to be just as common among new parents.

Are you at risk?

Ask yourself how many of the following apply to you:

  • Have you had anxiety or depression before?
  • Does your partner have anxiety or depression?
  • Do you have a lack of practical, emotional or social support available?
  • Are you feeling the burden of financial stress?
  • Did you support your partner through a difficult birth?
  • Do you have current or past issues with drugs or alcohol?
  • Is your baby unwell?
  • Are you going through major life changes and/or relationship difficulties?
  • Are you finding the reality of parenting different from your expectations?

Other contributing factors can include:

  • not being able to bond with your baby
  • attitudes towards fatherhood and masculinity – thinking you can’t talk about how you’re feeling or ask for support, or a fear that you’ll be seen as a ‘failure’ if you’re not coping 
  • changes in your relationship with your partner, which can lead to feelings of resentment and exclusion  
  • worries about extra responsibilities, financial burdens and managing the stress of work.

Is your baby premature or unwell? 

If your baby is premature or has health complications, they may need to spend time in hospital. This can be an extremely distressing situation for any new parent, and can increase your risk of developing anxiety or depression. It’s important to look after your mental health at this time, and many hospitals have dedicated support services for families to help you. Make sure you take advantage of any support that’s offered, and ask what else is available to help you.

This doesn’t mean you’ll automatically experience a mental health condition, but it’s important to keep an eye on your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. 

Signs and symptoms

Anxiety and depression can sometimes be hard to spot in new dads because of the overlap between symptoms and the general stress and exhaustion that comes with caring for a baby. It can be hard to know if what you’re feeling is ‘normal’ when your sense of normal has been completely blown apart.

That’s when it can be helpful to take a close look at how you’re feeling – about yourself, your partner, and your baby. If your thoughts and feelings are predominantly negative, this can be a sign that you’re experiencing anxiety or depression.  

Symptoms of depression in new dads

  • low mood
  • increased irritability and anger
  • often feeling close to tears or crying a lot
  • feeling sad, down, numb and empty
  • feeling hopeless, with no interest in baby or other people or things you or your partner used to enjoy
  • decreased energy and exhaustion
  • having trouble thinking clearly, lack of concentration and poor memory (which can also result from a lack of sleep).

Symptoms of anxiety in new dads

  • anxiety and worries that keep coming into your mind and are difficult to stop or control
  • constantly feeling irritable, restless or on edge
  • having tense muscles, a tight chest and heart palpitations
  • outbursts of extreme fear and panic
  • constant worries or fear about the health of baby during pregnancy or after the baby is born.

Feelings and responses

  • Feeling trapped. Some new dads describe feeling stuck in their situation with no escape, as well as feeling incredibly alone. 
  • Anger and rage. Other dads feel angry at their partners, children or other family members. These feelings can be confusing and distressing.
  • Hopelessness and helplessness. Some new dads feel that their situation is hopeless, and unable to change it. They feel their lives and sense of self might never return to normal.
  • Disappointment. Some dads feel an overwhelming sense of disappointment. They might think they’ve failed in their role as a father and let everyone down, or feel let down themselves if fatherhood doesn’t meet their expectations. Some new dads get a double whammy of disappointment if both these scenarios are true.

Seeking support 

Support is available for new dads experiencing anxiety and depression. You don’t have to go through this alone – with the right treatment and people around you, you can and will feel better.

Asking for support, talking things through, and even just spending more time with the people you love can help you reconnect with your positive feelings again.

  • Talking things through with your GP is a good first step. They can provide an assessment, refer you to other health professionals as required, and rule out any physical health conditions that could be contributing to how you’re feeling. Learn more about different health professionals and the services they provide
  • Find a support group. Sharing your story and learning from other dads going through the same challenges can be really beneficial. Your child and family health nurse or local community health centre can help you find groups in your area.
  • If things get too much, the Beyond Blue Support Service is always available. Our trained mental health professionals will listen, provide information and advice, and point you in the right direction so you can seek further support.
Take our dad stress test

If you’re unsure if what you’re going through is a ‘normal’ response to new dad life, complete our two-minute dad stress checklist.

Based on your score, we’ll give you some pointers on next steps for seeking support.

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