For new parents, most of the concern and attention is usually given to the mothers and rightfully so. Postpartum and maternal depression is not uncommon among mothers, and the amount of research and information available on the subject is only growing. What is less understood and only just beginning to gain attention is the depression experienced by fathers as well, particularly new and young fathers. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health new research, published in Pediatrics on April 14th, found that among young fathers the risk of developing paternal depression, during their first five years of fatherhood, increased by 10 percent in comparison to men who became fathers later in life.
For men in their early 20’s, their chances of becoming depressed during fatherhood rose by 68 percent. While the study’s research does not imply that men are bound to become depressed during the early years of fatherhood, it does call attention to the fact that both mothers and fathers may experience emotional setbacks while adjusting to parenthood.
The study began in 1994, following over 10,000 men for 20 years. The men were screened every two years, answering 10 questions that were based on depression symptoms. The men were asked questions regarding feelings of unhappiness, how well-liked they felt, and if they were tired. The findings showed that a third of the participants had become fathers between the ages of 24 to 32.
Dr. Craig Garfield, professor of pediatrics from Northwestern University and the lead author of the study, explained that the first five years after a child’s birth is the time in which fathers are at an increased risk of developing symptoms of depression. The study also showed a greater incidence of depression among resident fathers (fathers who lived with their children), and even higher levels of depression among black and Hispanic fathers. For men who did not live with their families there was not a significant rise in depression during the first five years of fatherhood, although the study did reveal that this group showed greater signs of depression before they entered fatherhood.
The increased risk of depression among young fathers during the first five years of becoming a parent has negative consequences for the family. Previous research from Dr. Garfield found that dads who were depressed were more likely to use corporal punishment with children, read and interact with them less, neglect their children and tend to become easily agitated. Young children with depressive fathers during early childhood have been shown to experience disadvantages both psychologically, in their language and reading capacities, and behaviorally.
These new findings shed light on the mental health of fathers, and points to the need for further research. Dr. Garfield explained there is vast amount of literature focused on how a mother’s depression can affect childhood development, but very little focus on the role that paternal depression has to play. Until recently, Dr. Garfield says, “fathers have not been on the radar.”
Additional research from Professor Michael Weitzman has found that for fathers, the biggest predictors of depression are living with a mother who is also depressed and having a child with behavioral or emotional issues. Experts argue that children need an incredible amount of care from both parents in order to facilitate healthy childhood development. Research on the effect that paternal depression will have on children is desperately needed. The strains of having a child weigh heavily on most parents, especially on those who are young. Trying to maintain a job, household duties, and mitigate the difficulties that couples face in their relationships as they adjust to parenthood can be incredibly stressful and increase the risk of depression in young fathers and mothers.
By Natalia Sanchez