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Living Well

There's Help For Sad Dads

Last updated: Aug 03, 2015

Summit Medical Group Pediatrician David Levine, M.D., is on a mission to let everyone know about postpartum depression in men. 

A pediatrician in Westfield, he is an expert in the condition now, but that wasn't the case when he started experiencing the symptoms himself two years ago, shortly after his son was born.

His personal experience with postpartum depression landed Dr. Levine on the Charlie Rose Show Brain Series 3: Episode 2, with Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel of Columbia University, and researchers Catherine Dulac and Charles Nelson of Harvard University, Margaret Spinelli of Columbia, and Susanne Shultz of the University of Manchester, who do basic science research into the brain, before and after birth, and who research postpartum depression.   

He said he was happy to be included because "I was there as the human example" of what postpartum depression "actually looks like. It is imperative that more people find out about it" because then it is more likely they will talk about it and get treated.

"I had a very classic presentation," he said. It usually starts a couple of weeks after a child is born, with “a feeling, 'There's something not right with the child.' which progresses to, 'Now I am positive there's something wrong' to 'I don't want to be with the child.' which turns to "avoidance and anger ... men become very angry towards the child."

"That's exactly what I was experiencing," said Dr. Levine. His son was a full-term baby, with no health issues, but “one of my worries when he was first born was that there was something wrong with him." He was a very colicky baby, and Dr. Levine said, "I associated colic with something else and thought his behaviors were manifestations of a larger problem.”

No one, not even his son's pediatrician, his wife or friends, could convince him his son was healthy, he said. "A thought gets in your head and doesn't want to come out, which is the nature of human beings." It wasn't long before "I would come home from work and say to my wife, 'Get him out of my face. I don't want to be with him.'"  Inside, he said he knew his behavior "was going to ruin our marriage," but he was struggling with depression and his role as a man.

Men internalize the stereotype that they are "a rock, the foundation, and women lean on you," he said. That may not be reality, but a man with postpartum depression seldom considers talking about his fears with his wife or anyone else.

"A large part of my not getting help earlier was I was genuinely afraid of the way she would look at me and afraid I would seem like less of a man," he said. After battling with frustration, anger and "negative, tragic thoughts regarding my son and, by extension, myself and my wife … I told her what was wrong. I broke down crying with my wife, convinced that I had said something too horrible for us to come back from," he said. 

They talked, he called a Summit Medical Group therapist whose specialty is postpartum depression and, after about two months in therapy, a lot of hard work on his part and support from his wife, things were better, he said.

He learned that while the fear of talking to his wife was real, "It should not have been. If you have a truly supportive spouse, you can talk to her." 

"It all comes down to education. When I was going through this, friends of the family, PhDs, therapists, others didn't know about postpartum depression in men, even though an estimated five to 10 percent of men suffer through it," he said, which is why no one suggested that was his problem.

While he worked with the therapist, not only did he change, his son changed, matured and was a little less colicky. His wife's three month maternity leave ended and he took a month off. "I was doing all the diaper changes, making bottles, playing with him - he even went with me to some of my therapy sessions. It was a very good time for all of us," he said.

Postpartum depression is a mental illness and one that "can lead to child abuse and neglect ...  can effect the baby who, if he or she is not loved by both parents, will develop problems," including attachment disorder, he said. 

If you think you or someone you know has postpartum depression, the most important thing to do is get help.

"Mothers are supposed to be screened at all the child's visits during the first year and at their obstetrician's office," said Dr. Levine. "The mother fills a form out in the waiting room and we score it. It allows us to have a conversation, 'How are you feeling? Are you OK?'" 

If the patient seems in need of help, the doctor can refer her to a therapist. Online support is available and several websites that deal with postpartum depression have "numbers they can call," where they can talk to people "trained to talk to people with that illness," Dr. Levine said.

If a parent is concerned about their spouse, the doctor will try to find a way to get the spouse involved in the baby's care. Dr. Levine said he can ask a mother to "have dad call me or to give me dad's number and tell him I will be reaching out." That doesn't always produce a meeting between a doctor and depressed parent, but "all we can do is educate the concerned parent," he said. We can tell them, "Here are things you can do, or a number you can call or, if things are really that bad, here's a crisis hotline number." 

"Dads can be sad and we sometimes need a little bit of help," he said. There are resources out there that can help and "something that sounds like it starts out very badly can turn into something wonderful for a family," he said. It did for him.

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