The PediaBlog has previously explored postpartum depression and anxiety in mothers of newborn babies and infants. A new study published in April’s Pediatrics looks at symptoms of depression in new fathers, which have been shown to occur at a rate of 5-10%. According to Michelle Healy, the rate of paternal depression rises after birth, with the greatest risk occurring in fathers who live with a depressed mother or with a child with emotional or behavioral problems:
Becoming a dad can be emotionally tough for any guy, but especially for young, first-time fathers. A new study finds that the first five years of parenthood — key attachment and bonding years for a child — may be the riskiest for young dads when it comes to developing depression.
Symptoms of depression increased on average by 68% over the first five years of fatherhood for men who were around 25 years old when they became fathers and lived with their children […]
Healy states that the study’s author has done previous research which showed that:
[…] depressed dads will use more corporal punishment, read less and interact less with their children, and are more likely to be stressed and neglect their children. Compared with the children of non-depressed dads, these children are at risk for having poor language and reading development and more behavior problems and conduct disorders.
The study concludes that help for new fathers, and their families, is needed:
In our longitudinal, population-based study, resident fathers show increasing depressive symptom scores during children’s key attachment years of 0–5. Identifying at-risk fathers based on social factors and designing effective interventions may ultimately improve health outcomes for the entire family.
Julie Beck spoke to the lead author of the study:
“Dads have doubled the amount of time they spend in childcare from 1965 to 2011,” says Dr. Craig Garfield, lead author on the study and associate professor in pediatrics hospital-based medicine and medical social sciences at Northwestern. “If we know that dads who are depressed are more likely to use physical punishment and less likely to read to their kids, this has an effect on the child as well…Dads are key players. They have contributions to make, and they can be positive or negative contributions.”
Beck considers the difference between the sexes:
Postpartum depression may be more likely to go undiagnosed in men, though, as men are traditionally less likely to ask for help than women, and are more willing to report problems like irritability and fatigue than feelings of sadness or worthlessness.
“I’m not sure that the male/female part has as much to do with it as we all thought,” says Karen Kleiman, founder and director of the Postpartum Stress Center and author of This Wasn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression. “It’s just hard to have a baby. It’s hard to have a baby and continue to work, at work and at your relationships.”
Beck seems to hit the nail on the head:
One thing that seems to play into all this is the dissonance between a person’s expectations of parenthood and the reality.
“It’s like holding your breath for a really long time,” Kleiman says. “Then all of a sudden we get what we think we want and think, ‘I finally have what I want, why do I feel so bad? And now on top of that I feel guilty for feeling so bad.’”