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Causes of Postnatal Depression


There is no one single cause of depression, and in many cases it starts for no particular reason, but various factors are

thought to influence its development. These are a range of biological, environmental and socio-cultural factors -

a combination of particular circumstances that can increase the chances of someone having PND. 


Generally, consensus and research indicates that you are more likely to develop postnatal depression if you have: 

  • a history of mental health issues - including depression

  • lack of support from friends and family 

  • experienced a major life event  - e.g. bereavement, relationship ending. 

  • a history of abuse

  • a number of personal worries such as financial problems and poor living conditions.  

In addition, many experts argue that some people have a biological predisposition to developing postnatal depression. Women in particular are considered more at risk than men due to hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and after birth, which can trigger very significant changes in mood. Stressful events that occur before the birth, a traumatic delivery and low self-esteem can also contribute, as can certain physical illnesses such as an under-active thyroid, which can trigger symptoms of depression. Above all however, postnatal depression can quite easily be linked to the physical and emotional stress of looking after a newborn baby, especially if lack of sleep is involved.  


Paternal depression in men

Up until recently postnatal depression has been widely considered a condition that affects mainly women, but it has become recognised that dads too can be highly susceptible to developing depression and anxiety following the birth of their child. Research from the Medical Research Council has shown that 'paternal depression' affects one in 28 dads in the first year after the birth of their child. The exact cause is unknown, but there are two key factors thought to have significant impact on a new dad's emotional well-being, which can make him more vulnerable to developing symptoms of paternal depression. These are:


  • Strained relationship with their partner - new dads are more prone to depression  if the relationship they have with their partner has been strained before and during the pregnancy.

  • Partner experiencing postnatal depression - a clear link has been shown between a dad experiencing symptoms of paternal depression and his partner also suffering from the illness.


Additionally, nowadays men are facing increased pressures of fatherhood and associated responsibility, which may too put them at risk of developing paternal depression. Like new mums, new fathers are also likely to struggle with the financial pressures and change in lifestyle that can occur following the birth of a baby. Younger dads on lower incomes tend to experience higher rates of anxiety and depression following the birth of their child.  

As with all the conditions above there are a number of things that can be done to help. It is very important to contact your GP or health visitor to find out about options and choices available, and see the range of options on our site from counselling to support groups and self-help strategies.

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