British Study: Male Postnatal Depression Under-recognized, Under-appreciated

By Rick Naurert PhD
August 7th, 2022
Medically reviewed by Paul Sietes, MD.
British Study: Male Postnatal Depression Under-recognized, Under-appreciated

A new study from the UK shows that signs of postnatal depression in men is frequently not recognized. Researchers found that observers generally believed males were suffering from stress or tiredness.

Moreover, even when depression was recognized, most believed a male’s condition would be easier to treat. Observers expressed less sympathy for the male and were less likely to suggest that the male seek help.

The research, led by Professor Viren Swami of Anglia Ruskin University, appears in the Journal of Mental Health. Swami studied 406 British adults between 18 and 70 years old.

The participants were presented with case studies of a man and a woman both displaying symptoms of postnatal depression, a mental health issue which affects as many as 13 percent of new parents.

This new study found that participants of both sexes were less likely to say there was something wrong with the male (76 percent) compared to the female (97 percent).

Of the participants who did identify a problem, they were significantly more likely to diagnose postnatal depression in the female case study than the male case study.

Researchers found that 90 percent of participants correctly described the female case study as suffering from postnatal depression but only 46 percent said the male had postnatal depression.

The participants commonly believed that the man was suffering from stress or tiredness. In fact, stress was chosen 21 percent of the time for the man compared to only 0.5 percent for the woman, despite identical symptoms.

Investigators discovered that attitudes were significantly more negative towards the male case study compared to the female. They found that participants reported lower perceived distress towards the male case study’s condition and believed that the male’s condition would be easier to treat. Furthermore, participants expressed less sympathy for the male and were less likely to suggest that the male seek help.

Swami, a Professor of Social Psychology, said: “Our findings suggest that the British public are significantly more likely to believe that something is ‘wrong’ when seeing a woman displaying the symptoms of postnatal depression, and they are also far more likely to correctly label the condition as postnatal depression.

“There may be a number of reasons for this gender difference. It is possible that general awareness of paternal postnatal depression still remains relatively low and there might be a perception among the British public that postnatal depression is a ‘women’s issue’ due to gender-specific factors such as pregnancy-induced hormonal changes and delivery complications.

“What is clear is that much more can be done to promote better understanding of paternal postnatal depression, so people don’t brush it off as simply tiredness or stress.

This is particularly important as many men who experience symptoms of depression following the birth of their child may not be confident about asking for help and may be missed by healthcare professionals in the routine assessments of new parents.”

Source: Anglia Ruskin University

Dr. Rick Naurert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Naurert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.