More than one in 10 fathers become depressed after the birth of their child, and their postpartum depression is linked to greater risk of the mother developing depression in that period as well, according to a study published Tuesday.
Postpartum depression in mothers has become increasingly well-recognized in recent years, but much less attention has been focused on how fathers fare after the birth of their children. Yet, a growing body of evidence suggests that depression in either parent is been linked to long-term behavioral and psychiatric problems in the child, with some studies showing that the effect lasts until adolescence.
Researchers from the Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk conducted a statistical review of 43 previously published studies involving 28,000 adults to get an accurate estimate for what percentage of men actually experience a depression in life in the year after their child was born.
Overall, some 10.4 percent of fathers experience depression during the postpartum period, the analysis showed. In general only 4.8 percent of men are believed depressed at any given point in time. For women, the rate of postpartum depression was estimated at nearly 24 percent according to the new analysis, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The paper highlights the importance of recognizing and treating men's depression, said experts. "When we look at the impact on families and children, this is a public health problem that goes beyond the individual," said James Paulson, a child clinical psychologist and pediatrics professor at Eastern Virginia and the first author on the paper.
The reasons for paternal postpartum depression are likely similar to those that contribute to maternal postpartum depression, including factors like sleep deprivation, relationship and other stress and isolation from friends, said Dr. Paulson.
One difference is that for women who have experienced a previous depressive episode, changes in hormones may trigger a postpartum depression, said Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a depression expert and psychology professor at Yale University who wasn't involved in the current study.
Better understanding of men's depression during the postpartum period is critical because it often manifests differently than women's, said Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema. In general, depressed men are more likely to exhibit hostility and even aggression, whereas women who are depressed tend to become sad. As a parent, that could mean getting angry, making critical statements in negative tones or voice, punishing and hitting instead of being soothing and patient to a child, according to Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema.
"You would worry not only about the general atmosphere it [the father's depression] creates, but also potential abuse," said Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema.
There is also reason to believe that when the male partner gets depressed, the woman is likely to get depressed as well, she said. In Tuesday's study, researchers indeed showed that there was a moderate link between the father's postpartum depression and the mother's.