Depression in dads is, in fact, a relatively common phenomenon―affecting anywhere between 2% and 25% of them during their partner's pregnancy or in the first year postpartum.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), this rate can increase to 50% when the mother also has perinatal/postpartum depression. And it can take a serious toll on the family's wellbeing, specifically their children's.
Risk Factors for Paternal Depression:
New demands and responsibilities during pregnancy and the postpartum period often cause major changes in a father's life, too. It's important to understand what risk factors can affect the development of depression.
Difficulty developing an attachment with the baby
Lack of a good male role model
Lack of social support or help from family and friends
Changes in marital relationship, such as a partner's lack of intimacy
Feeling excluded and jealous over mother-child bonding
Lack of rewards in parenting
Financial and work stress
Symptoms of Paternal Depression:
Men may show different signs of depression. They may not cry but feel frustrated and angry. The depression may manifest itself in terms of irritability, impulsivity, and feeling unable to find pleasure in anything. Depressed fathers are more likely to engage in substance use, domestic violence, and discourage their partner from breastfeeding and/or breast pumping.
Screening for Paternal Depression:
The AAP recommends that all mothers should be routinely screened for depression during pregnancy and at 1, 2, 4, and 6 months after childbirth using screening tools, such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). Recently, doctors have started to screen fathers as well using this same EPDS questionnaire. Early identification of depressed fathers helps in accessing support and treatment so that they can remain present and positively involved with their family.
Research clearly demonstrates that it is important for men to get treated for depression, which may include talk therapy, antidepressant medications, and community-based supports.
Effects of Paternal Depression:
A father's mood does influence how he interacts with his children and partner.
Depressed dads are also much more likely to spank their children than those without depression. They are less likely to interact in positive ways, such as playing games, singing songs, or reading to and with their children.
Children of fathers who are depressed have a higher likelihood of emotional and behavioral problems at later ages. Some research also suggests that a father's depression early in a child's life puts the child at risk for developmental delays.
Depression in fathers also increases conflicts in marital relationships and makes mothers more vulnerable to depression. On the other hand, for children whose mother is already depressed, having an involved and nurturing father protects them from some of the negative effects of mom's depression.
Talk to a Health Care Professional
Health care professionals—such as your doctor, your baby's doctor, a nurse, or other health care provider—are familiar with the types of depression new and expectant parents face. They know ways to help and can explain your options to you. They are ready to listen to you and can put you on the road to recovery.
Any parent may become depressed when having a new baby and starting a family. It doesn't mean you are a bad or "not together" parent. In fact, getting treatment and support helps you care for your baby and your partner. You and your family don't have to suffer silently. There is help available.
All children deserve the chance to have a healthy family. And all parents (moms and dads) deserve the chance to enjoy their life and their children. If you are feeling depressed, don't suffer alone. Please tell a loved one and call your doctor right away. If there is any concern that you are going to harm yourself or your child, then seek immediate help.