A Calgary research team says it’s time to reconceptualize our view of postpartum depression. Nicole Lyn Letourneau, along with her team, wants people to refocus relationships within the family by increasing support, especially spousal support, to ensure a healthy relationship with their babies.

Letourneau, who is a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of Calgary, and is based at the Owerko Centre at Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute in Calgary, says, “We actually know through periodical studies that kids brain development, their brain architecture is built based on the quality of ‘serve and return’ relationships. So that’s why we say it’s a family affair.”

“Serve and return” is when a baby serves a cue for a need such as a full diaper, hunger or wanting to play. In return their caregiver must be able to respond. However, parents who are depressed can not respond or identify those cues properly.

PPD 1Nicole Lyn Letourneau has been doing research on mental health in relation to family affairs for 15 years. She stresses the importance of mental health in parents for the healthier development of their child’s brain.  Photo by Dean Mullin.

For Calgarian Patrick Daigle, everything came to a head as he wrapped up a shift. The thought of going home to his wife, Laura, and their infant son, Eddison, was paralyzing.

“I ended up having a few drinks that night and ended up just crying and crying and crying and said some things to Laura that were just not nice.”

Laura Daigle said she didn’t expect her husband to react in such a way after the birth of their child.

“It was like a loss for me because I gained this baby who I loved so much, but I was like, ‘how is it possible that by gaining this baby I’ve lost my husband?’”

She says it seemed her husband didn’t want to be around her and their child, something he confessed to a coworker earlier that day.

“It was heartbreaking for me … I was basically preparing myself to be a single mother.”

PPD 2Laura Daigle (left) and her husband Patrick (right) have experienced first-hand how paternal postpartum depression can affect a family, and the importance of seeking help from family and outside resources.  Photo by Karina Zapata.

Patrick eventually sought help from a counsellor and gathered information from an online PPD support group on the signs of paternal postpartum depression. It was clear this was what Patrick was suffering from.

As it stands, much more could be done to make fathers feel included. He recalls feeling sidelined, even in the hospital.

“I don’t even think my signature was needed to name him.”

Letourneau says PPD is not uncommon in fathers. Developing depression can be targeted to feelings of being isolated, alone or lacking in support.

“I don’t know why we are so women-focused … all the evidence shows the importance of two parents in children’s lives.”

She adds we must address people suffering with PPD the same way we would people suffering with mental health issues and mothers should help fathers go get assessed so they can get the proper help needed.

Concerning treatment, Letourneau says sometimes just speaking with a counsellor is enough.

Letourneau suggests Families Matter, a non-profit organization that provides family focused classes and programs based in Calgary. She says it’s one of the few non-profits for families that have programs specifically targeted to dads.  

Editor: Amber McLinden | amclinden@cjournal.ca 

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