MANY women will develop baby blues, a thankfully short-lived dip in mood in the first week to ten days following the birth of a new arrival.

Around one in ten mothers will suffer post-partum depression. At its worst this may develop into a severe and enduring mental illness, threatening the wellbeing of mum as well as baby. While the same number of fathers will also experience this phenomenon, referred to as Paternal Post-Partum Depression (PPPD), perhaps less is known about this equally disabling condition.

Paternal PPD can develop at any time within 12 months of the birth. A quarter of men will start to notice symptoms as soon as two months. Whereas women with PPD may become introverted and withdrawn, men may become irritable, aggressive and even violent. Negative coping strategies such as increased alcohol consumption or overworking are common. It is not unusual for dads with PPPD to convince themselves that their baby doesn’t love them. Normal crying may be interpreted as something seriously wrong with the child, or the inability to automatically settle baby as a sign that they are a bad father. Just as hormones play a strong role in maternal post-partum depression, they also affect how men feel following the birth. It is recognised that most men have a drop in their testosterone levels during this time, and in some this makes them more susceptible to mood changes. There may also be an increase in stress hormones including cortisol.

The hormonal theory is perhaps too simple on its own and a whole host of factors come into play in the development of PPPD. Pre-existing mood problems obviously have a strong bearing, as does the quality and strength of relationship between mum and dad. Witnessing a traumatic birth, which is typically associated with a significant feeling of loss of control, can leave long lasting psychological scars on fathers as well as mothers.

As a new father, if you are reading this and feel that the description may match some or all of the emotions you are feeling, please don’t bury your head in the sand. Mental health is not a weakness of character. It is a very real illness, which if unaddressed destroys so many families. Yet it is also treatable, especially if addressed early on.

Basic measures include talking to other dads, maybe even forming a support network as new mothers often do. Do something for yourself for half an hour every day; exercise is an excellent way of de-stressing.

Bonding with your baby takes time, but practice makes perfect. Simple moves like skin to skin contact have shown to lower blood pressure, as well as generating feelings of love and warmth in both baby and dad.

Persistent or severe symptoms of PPPD are managed in the same way as for mothers. Counselling, including relationship counselling if appropriate, may help. If antidepressant medication is offered, this is not a quick fix, and you are likely to be on them for several months to fully get the benefit.