Post-partum depression is a topic that has been highly researched by experts all across the world. There are resources in place nearly everywhere for women who are experiencing postpartum depression after the birth of their child. However, little is known about new fathers who also experience depression. A new research study is shedding some light on the topic of dads and depression.
According to a brand new United States study, the birth of a child, and becoming a father can increase a man’s risk of depression. Researchers say that if treatment and intervention begins at the first signs, it can increase the well-being of the entire family. Lead author of the study, Dr. Craig Garfield says,
“We know a lot about mothers and maternal depression and the effect that it has on children and we’re just now starting to learn about paternal depression. We knew that paternal depression existed and it affects about 5 to 10 percent of dads – and there are seven million fathers in the U.S.”
Garfield is a researcher and pediatrician at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
During the critical early years of a child’s life, a father’s depression may impair the child’s development, according to the authors in the Pediatrics journal. They say that the key step in getting them help is identifying depression in new dads and those who are at risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend regular screenings for depression and other mental health disorders among both men and women who are planning on becoming parents. Garfield adds “We knew (depression) affected the fathers and the children and families, but we didn’t know when and where to focus our attention for fathers in order to marshal our resources.” So that’s when Garfield and his colleagues decided to analyze data on approximately 10,623 men who had been enrolled in a long-term health study since their teen years, and have been followed for more than two decades.
Of the data collected, Garfield said,
“This was a great data set to look at this because you get young men who are teenagers and follow them into adulthood., and a good number of them are going to transition into fatherhood so we could actually look at their depressive symptoms scores over that time frame.”
Out of the 10,623 men enrolled in the study, approximately 3,425 had become fathers by the end of the study period. Of those men who had children over that time frame, a total of 2,739 men lived with their child, while the remaining 686 were not living with their children. For comparison, the researchers also followed the mental health of the non-fathers as well.
Over the study period, the participants would answer survey questions at various points in time during their teenage years, their 20’s and their 30’s. Their responses were recorded and used to score the men’s symptoms of depression. When it came time to compare the men’s depression scores, it was found that the new fathers who lived with their child had scored the lowest, while the new fathers who did not live with their child had scored the highest, and the non-fathers fell somewhere in between on the scale. However, the fathers living with their children had experienced a 68% increase in their depression scores over their child’s first five years of life.
Garfield elaborates on the study results;
“That was significant in the study and it’s significant when you think about the child development and the development of the family and the importance that fathers play. Fathers’ roles are changing and we know that their time spent with children has nearly doubled from 1965 to 2011, and that they’re spending more time, often than their counterparts in the UK and Australia. Part of that is mothers who are more frequently in the workplace and it’s also a new ideal of fatherhood that men are wanting to spend time with their kids. So a study like this puts fathers on the map and where we need to focus our energy because ultimately as a pediatrician I see children thrive when parents thrive and if we can make sure that the moms and dads are doing well in that transition to parenthood, there’s a better chance of the child doing well.”
James Paulson, a researcher in psychology at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia weighed in on the study,
“Young fathers who are depressed are more likely to disengage from care and involvement with the infant, and they’re more likely to use harsh parenting tactics like spanking, yelling, screaming and so forth, which we know is not helpful for child development and it could be harmful in some situations.”
Paulson also talks about how relationships may become strained when young fathers are depressed, thus leading to family difficulties in the areas of parental communication. He says “They can’t function together properly and they have difficulty co-parenting and working in the child’s best interest.”