Storylines on popular TV dramas are a great way of raising the public's awareness of a disease. They're almost as effective as a celebrity contracting an illness.
For example, when Wiggles member Greg Page quit the group because of postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, I had a spate of patients, mostly young and female, coming in with self-diagnosed "Wiggles Disease". A 30% increase in the number of mammograms in the under-40s was attributed to Kylie Minogue's breast cancer diagnosis. The list goes on.
Thanks to a storyline on the TV drama Desperate Housewives, I received questions about male postnatal depression from local housewives desperate for information:
"Does it really exist?"
"I thought postnatal depression was to do with hormones, so how can males get it?"
"First it's male menopause, now it's male postnatal depression. Why can't they keep their grubby mitts off our conditions?"
"It's like that politically correct crap about a 'couple' being pregnant. 'We' weren't pregnant, 'I' was. His contribution was five seconds of ecstasy and I was landed with nine months of morning sickness, tiredness, stretch marks and sore boobs!"
One of my patients, a retired hospital matron now in her 90s, had quite a few words to say on the subject.
"Male postnatal depression -- what rot! The women's liberation movement started insisting on equality and now the men are getting their revenge. You know, dear, it all began going downhill for women when they started letting fathers into the labour wards. How can a man look at his wife in the same way if he has seen a blood-and-muck-covered baby come out of her … you know? Men don't really want to be there. They just think they should -- it's a modern expectation. Poor things have no real choice."
Before I had the chance to express my paucity of empathy she continued to pontificate.
"Modern women just don't understand men. They are going about it the wrong way. Take young couples who live with each other out of wedlock and share all kind of intimacies. I'm not talking about sex; no, things more intimate than that, like bathroom activities, make-up removal, shaving, and so on."
Her voice dropped to a horrified whisper. "And I'm told that some young women don't even shut the door when they're toileting. No wonder they can't get their de facto boyfriends to marry them. Foolish girls.
Men need some mystery. Even when you're married, toileting should definitely be kept private."
I have mixed feelings about male postnatal depression. I have no doubt that males can develop depression after the arrival of a newborn into the household; however, labelling it "postnatal depression" doesn't sit all that comfortably with me. I'm all for equality, but the simple fact of the matter is that males and females are biologically different, especially in the reproductive arena, and no amount of political correctness or male sharing-and-caring can alter that. Depressed fathers need to be identified, supported and treated, that goes without saying, but how about we leave the "postnatal" tag to the ladies?
As one of my female patients said: "We are the ones who go through the 'natal'. When the boys start giving birth, then they can be prenatal, postnatal or any kind of natal they want!"
(This blog post has been adapted from a column first published in Australian Doctor http://bit.ly/1aKdvMM)