For David Levine, the panic set in at the hospital, hours after his son Zachary, now 5, was born.
“Within the first 24 hours, I had this general sense that something was wrong,” the pediatrician and now father of two, who lives in Scotch Plains, NJ, tells The Post.
The 2013 birth triggered “what can only be referred to as dark thoughts,” says Levine — the worst of which “amounted to homicide, and then suicide.”
Postnatal depression is widely considered a new-mom’s disease, but men can — and do — experience the baby blues, too.
“More than a fifth of fathers have experienced depression by the time their child is 12 years of age,” says Michael Yogman, a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School and an expert on father-child relationships.
But new-parent depression can be harder to recognize in men, according to a new study conducted at Anglia Ruskin University and published in the Journal of Mental Health.
Of the 406 UK-based adults, only 46 percent of participants were able to identify depression symptoms in a father — compared to 90 percent in the case of a depressed mother.
This lines up with Levine’s experience.
“I didn’t tell anybody how I was feeling. I didn’t even know how to broach the subject with my friends, or anybody, which makes me a pretty normal guy,” says the 41-year-old, who helped found International Fathers’ Mental Health Day — the day after Father’s Day — through advocacy organization Postpartum Support International in 2016.
‘As crazy as it sounds, I just didn’t think he liked me. He cried when I held him [and] didn’t cry when Mom held him’
Whereas people are on the lookout for moms to experience mood swings and anxiety right after childbirth, dad depression can reveal itself slowly, “up to a year postpartum,” says Yogman.
Also, women’s signs of emotional distress tend to entail crying spells or irritation — while for guys, the opposite is true, says Yogman. “Men are more likely to avoid emotional expression, deny vulnerability [and] not seek help.”
In men, he says, postnatal depression may include additional symptoms, such as “alcohol and drug-related issues, compulsive or anti-social behavior, interpersonal conflict, and undermining breast-feeding” — saying things like, “oh, the baby’s fussy” or “the baby’s not gaining weight” — because they feel excluded from it.
In Levine’s case, that was one of the earliest signs that he “wasn’t thinking straight.”
When his wife had trouble breast-feeding, “I belittled my son, because I thought he was the cause of all [the stress],” says Levine. “As crazy as it sounds, I just didn’t think he liked me,” he adds. “He cried when I held him [and] didn’t cry when Mom held him.”
You’d think a pediatrician or his colleagues would know the red flags to look for — but it took awhile to dawn on him, he says, and nobody seemed to sense anything was off at work. “I was saying and doing things that were unusual for me, [but] people didn’t know that, because they didn’t know me well enough.”
Eventually — after a tiff with his wife and a crying breakdown — Levine realized that he needed help. The couple hired a night nurse, and Levine got a therapist.
“I met with a postpartum specialist for 3 or 4 months, and we did cognitive behavioral therapy,” says Levine, who also brought Zachary to sessions.
It got him through those dark times.
“I bonded with my son . . . [and] by the time he went to day care, I started feeling a lot better,” says Levine.
He returned to therapy three years later, when his daughter, Alexandra, was born and stirred up depressive symptoms — and emerged from the hole “in half the time.”
Levine has a lot of sympathy for his dad peers, whose role models may be “drinking, smoking” “Mad Men”-esque fathers. He hopes sharing his struggle will encourage others to be open about theirs — and to be alert for the warning signs of postnatal depression in men.
“Nobody knows, because nobody asks,” he says.
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