In analyzing health data on 10,623 young men, ages 24 to 32 – data collected as part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health – researchers at Northwestern University found that depression symptoms went up by an average of 68 percent during the first five years of fatherhood.
While most studies have focused on the ways postpartum depression affects mothers and their children, this study is one of the first to detail the development of depression symptoms in young fathers.
“It’s not just new moms who need to be screened for depression, dads are at risk, too,” said Dr. Craig Garfield, lead author of the new study. “Parental depression has a detrimental effect on kids, especially during those first key years of parent-infant attachment. We need to do a better job of helping young dads transition through that time period.”
Garfield hopes his new paper, which was published this week in the journal Pediatrics, will lead to earlier and more successful interventions and treatment for young men who may be at increased risk of clinical depression in the first several years of fatherhood.
“Identifying at-risk fathers based on social factors and designing effective interventions may ultimately improve health outcomes for the entire family,” Garfield and his colleagues write in their paper.
Postpartum depression isn’t just bad for moms and dads, but also children. Previous studies have shown fathers struggling with depression are more likely to use corporal punishment. They are also less apt to read books to their children or spend time with them. As compared to children of non-depressed dads, children struggling under the weight of their father’s poor mental health are more likely to have trouble with language and reading development. The same children also have a higher tendency to misbehave.
“This is a wakeup call for anyone who knows a young man who has recently become a new father,” Garfield said. “Be aware of how he is doing during his transition into fatherhood. If he is feeling extreme anxiety or blues, or not able to enjoy things in life as he previously did, encourage him to get help.”