Fatherhood, depression and bullshit

Many new fathers are filled with great joy on becoming parents, but for some it’s the beginning of a long, dark period of depression. Writing in the Observer, Barbara Ellen completely misrepresents the issue and writes the kind of heartless column you’d expect from the Daily Mail’s Jan Moir:

I would have been more concerned that the mothers in question were having to put up with such exhausting narcissists as partners – men incapable of hiding their sulky self-absorption

As Ally Fogg writes on Comment is Free, Ellen’s column is based on a Daily Mail piece that’s hardly fair, balanced or even accurate. A study found that some fathers suffered from depression in the early stages of parenthood; the Mail’s Robert Lefever claimed that the “poor dears” had post-natal depression, which is something else entirely.

Lefever misreported the study’s findings as being that 5% of fathers develop post-natal depression. He went on to sarcastically ask whether men would get pre-menstrual tension next, and revealed his true colours by worrying that “politicians, of the bleeding heart tendency, will say that these men should be treated sympathetically – at the expense of their employers”.

Cue Lefever and Ellen telling everyone to man up. Fogg again:

Both Lefever and Ellen strongly imply that paternal depression is little more than whiny men wishing to jump aboard the PND bandwagon. Their prescription would appear to be: man up and suck it up. The reality emerging from medical and psychological research is precisely the opposite. Again and again, researchers point out that the biggest problem is that many men will not admit to depression and will not seek help when needed.

Ignore the Ellens and Lefevers of this world: depression is a serious illness with horrible consequences not just for the sufferer, but for the people around them. If you’re a dad and you’re depressed, you need to speak to somebody about it – sooner rather than later.

9 thoughts on “Fatherhood, depression and bullshit

  1. Stephen says:

    I suppose the articles are based on the idea that post-natal depression in women is entirely caused by chemical changes in the body after pregnancy, and therefore it’s not possible for men to get it. But both mother and father share the sleepless nights, and the birth of the first child brings about a radical change in lifestyle for both partners, and in some ways it can be worse for the new father, expected to go back to work and carry on as normal without the period of adjustment that the mother gets. Dads feel more involved with parenting now and that sudden responsibility can come as a huge shock.

    Basically, both new parents are subject to a massive upheaval in their lives, and it would be surprising if only one gender was consistently at risk for depression. Denying that rather obvious truth would seem to help no-one.

  2. Eloquentlunacy says:

    This is exactly the witless attitude that left me suffering for the best part of 10 years as a young father. Sleepless nights, a cock eyed shift pattern at work and constant, excruciating financial worry.

    I’m sure the Harley Street psychoanalysts make more than their fair share off of the peer group that wrote the idiotic, mysonogystic comments, while the rest of us avoid medical intervention purely because of this stupid attitude to male depression post fatherhood.

  3. Gary says:

    I know where she’s coming from, but I think she’s written it in haste: judging by her comment in the Fogg piece, what she wrote isn’t what she thought she’d written. She doesn’t seem aware that what was printed reads like an attack on (clinically) depressed dads, and that means she’s failed to do her job properly: when somebody writes a column it should be clear what it’s actually about.

    I had a fairly bad time in the early days, and reading the article really upset me.

    > therefore it’s not possible for men to get it.

    Yes, absolutely, but while that’d be a fair point if anybody at all was claiming men got PND, nobody is: it’s a journalistic invention.

    > in some ways it can be worse for the new father

    In some ways, yes: there’s certainly a shit-load of stress that comes from becoming the only breadwinner and trying to perform at work while massively sleep-deprived and frazzled. If you’re not depressed that’s pretty hard; if you *are* depressed then it’s utterly hellish.

    > Denying that rather obvious truth would seem to help no-one.

    Yes, absolutely. Not least because if the man is depressed, he’s not able to be as supportive as he could be at a time when his partner needs him most. That’s the best case scenario, and the worst case is much worse: there’s a proven link between depression and shaken baby syndrome, and if he’s self-medicating with booze or drugs there are associated risks there (self-harm, violence, all the other lovely things those substances can do). Even if you’re a card-carrying man hater, making sure the man’s OK is important, because that helps to ensure that the woman’s okay and that the baby’s okay.

  4. Gary says:

    Eloquentlunacy: thanks for posting that. I remember a few months in when I realised that I really wasn’t doing very well, and I asked a friend (and father of two) for advice. After listening to the whole thing, he thought for a moment and then said: “you need to enjoy every minute, mate.”

    That wasn’t very helpful.

  5. Squander Two says:

    > that’d be a fair point if anybody at all was claiming men got PND, nobody is: it’s a journalistic invention.

    I suspect this is due to the common journalistic assumption that technical terms mean merely what their individual components mean. So “serial” means a number of things one after the other, “killer” is obvious, so “serial killer” equals anyone who commits more than two murders — and now journalists keep using the term, entirely wrongly, to describe people who kill their family or their neighbours or other people they know, or to publicise Coronation Street‘s “soap’s first serial killer” who wasn’t one. Similarly, “post” means after, “natal” means birth, so “post-natal depression” is just depression that happens after a birth, right?

    This would be combined with the modern desire to give everything technical terms, ideally medical ones. Even if she’d written “depression occurring after the birth of their child”, some sub would have changed it to “post-natal depression” to make it look more scientific and knowledgeable. Like no-one ever says they have some minor compulsion; they have to say they’ve got “a bit of OCD”.

    I’ll stop before I start ranting.

    For once.

  6. Eloquentlunacy says:

    Yeah, that much anticipated advice from a good friend invariably seems to be a variation of “it’ll get better”.

    Someone’s been visiting the cliche farm for a free range statement :)

  7. Eloquentlunacy says:

    I was an 18 year old dad (with typically 18 year old values), suddenly looking at a pram, massive responsibility and not a bloody clue as to how this was going to be even remotely possible.

    If there’d been open support, easily obtainable through official channels, without the stigma, the next 2 decades would of been far more liveable and a lot more fun. Bottled all the anxieties up and went through a nervous breakdown 15 years later, directly attributable to the stress of fatherhood. End of the day, the best thing I ever did was speak to a clinical psychiatrist.

  8. Gary says:

    I think there are a lot of people out there who would have benefited greatly from talking to somebody. Pretending everything’s fine when it isn’t doesn’t do anybody any favours.

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