In celebration of Father’s Day this month, we reached out to Chris Casazza, a Licensed Counselor whose primary focus is working with fathers, to gain some perspective about how perinatal mood and anxiety disorders impact men.

Challenges Facing New Dads

Chris states that from his perspective, the biggest challenge for new fathers is defining their role or purpose within the family unit. “Universally, I hear new dads wanting to be engaged with the baby, but not knowing how, or not trusting that they have the skills.” He shares that some of the struggles he hears are new dads who want to be more directly involved, but they are financially unable to or have limited paternity leave.

The second area Chris recognizes as a struggle for new dads is the challenges a new baby puts on the relationship between partners. Anecdotally, from his practice, he reports that many dads feel displaced by the new baby and find they are getting less attention from their partner.

Tips for New Dads

Chris’s most important tip is “to jump right in and not assume you are ill-equipped.” He says, “Dads are innately equipped to respond to babies and can help directly with things like diapering, burping, and swaddling and also indirectly with tasks such as labeling bottles, doing laundry, cooking and cleaning.”

Chris encourages defining new roles and responsibilities earlier rather than later. He states, “the earlier you can define these roles, and the clearer you can define expectations, the better you will be at avoiding resentment.” Some of the areas Chris recommends focusing on are expectations regarding time alone with the baby, as a family, and by yourself or with friends.

Chris also recommends building a parental community outside the family. He states that “talking honestly to other parents about your highs and lows can be incredibly helpful.” He encourages new dads to “make it a point to find medical providers, other parents, baby classes, etc., and contribute to that building of community.”

Finally, Chris suggests that dads don’t “put the relationship on the back burner too long.” He shares that it’s normal for a couple’s satisfaction and intimacy to go down the first 3 months of having a new baby, but suggests that the relationship should not be neglected for too long. “Make a point to show appreciation for each other and have a formal check-in at least once a week.

Tips for Dads Who Believe Their Partners are Suffering from a Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorder

Chris encourages dads who believe that their partners are experiencing a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder to consult with a professional who specializes in this area. He recommends that dads accompany their partners to the first therapeutic visit. “Be patient. Trust that things will get better with treatment but remember that things don’t get better overnight.”

Chris also encourages dads with a partner suffering from a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder to seek support for themselves and practice self-care. “It is important for dads to realize that they have a higher chance of developing a mood disorder if their partner is experiencing one. Don’t think you can handle it on your own. It is imperative for you to speak up for yourself and find the help you need as well.”

Paternal Postnatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders

Dads can experience postnatal mood disorders as well. A study in the Journal of American Medicine found that 10 percent of men showed signs of depression from the first trimester of their wives’ pregnancies through six months after the child was born. The number increased to 26 percent during the three- to six-month period after the baby’s birth. The study also found a positive correlation between paternal depression and maternal depression. (Paulson JF, Bazemore SD. Prenatal and Postpartum Depression in Fathers and Its Association With Maternal Depression: A Meta-analysis. JAMA. 2010;303(19):1961-1969. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.605.)

Chris has found in his practice that dads tend to exhibit their symptoms differently than moms. He states, “I often hear from dads that they notice they are quicker to anger. Some feel like they want to withdraw from the family. Some do this by burying themselves at work or numbing their

feelings with chemicals or other vices.” Chris finds that there is a cultural perception that men are strong and stable, and there is a stigma they face in reaching out for help. He states that this “unfortunately leads them to wait longer to get the help that they need, ultimately worsening the situation.”

Resources Available to Dads

Seattle PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support).

Seattle PEPS offers dads classes that Chris has facilitated for the past three years. Like all the groups offered by PEPS, PEPS for Dads is a peer support group that follows a structured format. The group meets for 11 weeks and currently is offered during the day and thus appeals to dads who are primary caregivers, on paternity leave, or have flexible work schedules. Chris indicated that there is current discussion regarding being more inclusive of working dads, with the hope that a group will be created targeting this population in the near future.

Seattle PEPS additionally has offered a lecture for dads in June for the past three years, which includes a panel of dads and targets new and prospective dads.

Chris also suggests meetup groups for dads through meetup.com. He states that these groups are generally less formal and less structured, but are a good way to connect to other dads in the

PSI’s monthly chat for men

This is a place where dads, partners, extended family members or other support people, and professionals can find some answers and support from an expert and from other men.

Chris further recommends the following websites and books:

  • athomedad.org: for those men considering being a stay-at-home dad
  • postpartummen.com: for those interested in learning more about Paternal Postpartum Mood Disorders.
  • fatherhood.org
  • fatherhood.gov
  • Fatherneed by Kyle Pruett
  • Partnership Parenting by Kyle Pruett
  • Fatherhood by Ross Parke
  • Postpartum Husband by Karen Kleiman

Chris has his own private practice in Seattle and Redmond where he specializes in treating new and expectant fathers. His treatment is client directed and tailored to the unique needs of the individual seeking treatment. He shares the following regarding his approach to working with clients:

I believe that any parent walking through my door seeking help to be a better parent has good intentions, and I encourage them that these will serve them well. I tend to remind clients to sit with the ambiguity rather than run from it; it’s a normal part of trying something new. I remind them to get used to it and embrace it; being a parent requires it. I also educate parents about the power of emotions and to let them be a guide and teacher rather than a threat. Allowing these feelings to be expressed, examined, and challenged is a valuable process and promotes healing and transformation. I am also aware that being a new parent may bring up “old ghosts,” evoked by the ways a parent was parented. Having a child can bring up memories of your own childhood, both good and bad. This gives you a choice in how you will either emulate or break the chains in how you were parented. Some of the work I do with clients addresses these dilemmas.

Finally, I stress that new parents don’t forget to exercise self-care and build it into your schedule. I feel exercise and good sleep are things that get neglected as a new parent but will keep you buoyant if you practice them regularly. Know what builds you up: Is it mindfulness? Exercise? Meditation? Listening to music? Being a new parent can challenge your mental health but knowing this and finding ways to address will ultimately allow you to be a better father to your child.

About Perinatal Support Washington