Fatherhood Leads to Stress

Postpartum depression among mothers is well documented, but less research has been done on depressed dads. Now a new study is calling attention to the problem of depression in fathers, with survey results shows that new fathers who are suffering from depression are three times more likely to spank their infants and are less likely to engage in positive parenting behaviors like reading aloud alcoholic father struggles.

Stress and Substance Abuse Can Hurt Families

The study, which was reported on in Pediatrics, was conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan. It looked at almost 2,000 dads with 1-year-old children and found that almost 10% were suffering from depression. Among the depressed dads, 41% admitted to hitting their child in the previous month (compared to only 13% from the non-depressed group). When it came to reading to their child at least 3 times per week, about 40% of depressed dads said they did, compared to almost 60% of non-depressed dads.

Previous research has found that mothers are more likely to suffer from depression during their first year of parenting than at any other time. A growing body of research, including the U-M study, indicates that this is also the case for fathers. The big life changes and increased responsibility that begin with a partner’s pregnancy and continue after the arrival of a new baby are the trigger for depression-related illness in many men.

The study also found the almost 80% of the depressed dads had talked to a pediatrician since the birth of their baby. A commentary that accompanied the study called on pediatricians to look for signs of depression in dads (as they now do with moms) and to recommend treatment. According to the commentary, “Well child visits may be an opportunity to screen fathers for depression and refer them for treatment.”

Wives and other relatives also need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of postnatal depression in new fathers. They may include:

Irritability and anger
Alcohol and substance abuse
Changes in appetite
Difficulty in sleeping
Excessive fatigue
Low self-esteem
A loss of interest in normal activities
New fathers who exhibit a lack of involvement with their new baby may be suffering from depression. According to Deborah Rich, a psychologist at Fairview Health Services in Minneapolis, “Lack of parental bonding or involvement with the newborn are very common signs of postnatal depression in men.”

Dads who experience one or more of these symptoms should be encouraged to seek professional help. Because postpartum depression is associated with women, many men are reticent about admitting that something is wrong. Ignoring the problem can have a negative impact on the entire family, especially young children. A 2005 study published in The Lancet found that the young children of depressed dads are at greater risk of experiencing emotional and behavioral problems later in life.