The Grapevine

Postpartum Depression Affects Fathers Nearly As Much As Mothers

If left untreated, postpartum depression can have a range of complications such as difficulties in bonding with one’s child, overwhelming fatigue, suicidal ideation, etc.

While the condition is often associated with new mothers, recent findings suggested its prevalence among new fathers may be severely underestimated.

The study titled "Prevalence of Depression Among Fathers at the Pediatric Well-Child Care Visit" was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Pediatrics on July 23.

It is estimated 1 in 4 mothers experience depressive symptoms at some point during or after pregnancy when their children are still young. While healthcare providers often screen new mothers for depression before and after birth, the screening is not as prioritized with new fathers.

"We know that dads who are depressed are less engaged with their kids, which can lead to cognitive and behavioral problems," said lead author Erika Cheng, a pediatrics researcher at the Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis.

"Dads who experience symptoms of depression — which include sadness, irritability, agitation, and anger — shouldn’t hide their feelings, because professional help is available."

The research team examined more than 9,500 visits to pediatric community health centers involving parents of children under the age of 15 months. When comparing screenings, it was found 4.4 percent of fathers tested positive for depression — a figure extremely close to the 5 percent of mothers who screened positive.

The findings suggested depressive symptoms may be a lot more prevalent among fathers than previously thought, highlighting a need for a better system to detect and diagnose postpartum depression in men.

Another challenge identified in the study was fathers were less likely than mothers to attend these clinical visits. In the study, they were only present for over 2,900 visits, making up less than a third (31 percent) of all visits. 

The American Psychological Association explained men are often reluctant to report and seek help for problems related to mental health, particularly depression. 

"We need to drop the stigma with all mental illness, whoever it affects," said Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News chief medical correspondent who was not involved with the study. "Obviously dads are just as vulnerable as moms are."

Experts have found there can be a gender difference in the symptoms. Ashton noted women usually tend to internalize symptoms of depression while men are more likely to externalize their symptoms.

"They escape through activities that you can see," she added, with examples such as substance abuse, anger, outburst, irritability, and gambling.

All the participant data was from five pediatrics clinics in Indianapolis, which was one of the main limitations of the study. Future studies can consider using a larger sample size to confirm these trends in screening results.