Much attention is paid to the mental and emotional well-being of women during and after pregnancy but the psychological state of young fathers has been neglected, according to a recently published study. The study finds that young men, especially those that live in the same home as their new baby, are at significant risk of developing depression during the first five years of fatherhood, a time when father-child bonding is crucial.
Craig Garfield, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and medical social sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, led the study of 10,623 young men in the United States. Garfield is also a pediatrician at Northwestern Memorial and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospitals.
The young men were enrolled in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which followed four waves of young men from adolescence into young adulthood over a 20-year period. The demographic composition of the study participants represents the national population of adolescent males in the US.
At each of the four waves during the study, each participant completed a survey that is part of the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale.
At the most recent wave of the study, the adolescents were now young men aged 24 to 32. Almost one-third of them were now fathers.
- Of the fathers, most of them lived with their children (residential fathers). The depression scores of the residential fathers indicated lower scores before fatherhood with a spike of depression by as much as 68% within the first five years following their baby's birth. The depression rate and symptom severity in this group were the most intense in the study group.
- Fathers who did not live with their children (nonresidential fathers) experienced greater degrees of depression before their children were born, with symptoms subsiding once the child was born.
The rates of depression in these young men, before and after becoming fathers, is said by Garfield to be a "wakeup call for anyone who knows a young man who has recently become a new father." He notes symptoms of extreme anxiety, the blues, and inability to enjoy life as much as before parenthood should not be overlooked. He recommends encouraging the young father to seek professional help in addressing the depression.
Managing dad's depression is important for the healthy development of the child. Garfield says, "Parental depression has a detrimental effect on kids." Depressed fathers are more likely to:
- Resort to corporal punishment
- Read less to their children
- Be over-stressed
- Be neglectful of their children
Children of depressed parents are more likely to experience conduct disorders, behavioral issues, and struggle with language and reading skills than children of parents not diagnosed with depression.
Source: Garfield, Craig F, MD, et al. "A Longitudinal Study of Maternal Mental Health During Transition to Fatherhood as Young Adults (abstract)." Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics. Apr 14, 2014. Web. Apr 24, 2014.