Becoming a father or mother is sometimes described as the most joyous moment in a person’s life, however, that feeling may not hold up as the pressures of being a parent become all too real. A study out of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine has revealed that men who become fathers around the age of 25 are more likely to suffer from depression a few years down the road.
“It’s not just new moms who need to be screened for depression, dads are at risk, too,” associate professor in pediatrics and medical social sciences at NU Feinberg School of Medicine, Dr. Craig Garfield, said in a statement. “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 and his colleagues from the university recruited 10,623 young men participating in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). Study participants are sampled at adolescence and asked to report back until around 20 years into young adulthood. Symptoms of depression experienced by each participant were gauged using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. Thirty-three percent of the young men between the ages of 24 and 32 had become fathers during the most recent report of the Add Health study.
Young men around the age of 25 who lived at home with their children experienced depressive symptoms that increased by 68 percent during the first five years of becoming a father. Researchers marked a dramatic increase in depressive symptoms among fathers in this group from before the birth of their child into young adulthood. Fathers at the same age who did not live at home with their children were less likely to suffer from bouts of depression.
“We knew paternal depression existed and the detrimental effects it has on children, but we did not know where to focus our energy and our attention until this study,” explained Garfield, who is also a pediatrician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital and Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “This is a wakeup call for anyone who knows a young man who has recently become a new father. 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.”
Young fathers who are dealing with depression aren’t the only ones in the family to suffer from the effects of their depressive symptoms. Existing research on men suffering from postnatal depression (PND) has revealed that depressed dads are more likely to neglect and physically abuse their child. They are also less likely get involved with their child’s affairs and more likely to deal with stress. Children of depressed parents tend to suffer from behavioral problems and conduct disorders.
Source: Duncan D, Rutsohn J, Garfield C, et al. A Longitudinal Study of Paternal Mental Health During Transition to Fatherhood as Young Adults. Pediatrics. 2014.