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New Research Finds Post-Birth Depression Can Occur In Fathers, Too
It’s fairly common for new mothers to experience a form of depression after giving birth. Known as the “baby blues,” it affects around 15 percent of women and is characterized by the emotional roller coaster of mood swings, crying and anxiety. It’s typically most pronounced in the days immediately after giving birth, and it can last up to two weeks. A more serious form of depression, known as postpartum depression, can also affect new mothers.
Having a child is a very physically and emotionally stressful experience, and it’s thought that this stress, as well as the fluctuations in hormones that occur during and after pregnancy, are the causes of these types of depression.
Both these forms of postnatal depression are widely recognized, and there are effective ways of mitigating them. But depression after a new baby is something most people associate primarily with the mother of the child. New research shows that depression can affect new fathers as well–something no one would previously suspected, since the father obviously doesn’t carry the child.
Prenatal and Postnatal Depression
In addition to feeling depressed after childbirth, women can sometimes experience depression during their pregnancy, a condition called prenatal depression. In addition to hormonal changes, this can sometimes be brought on by external elements like stress and lack of family or social support. Poor relationships and domestic violence can also contribute to this.
Most research on treating both prenatal and postnatal depression has been on women, but researchers in New Zealand surprised many people when their study revealed that both of these conditions can affect new and expecting fathers as well.
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Researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand surveyed over 3,500 men over the course of their partner’s pregnancy and after she gave birth as part of a larger study titled “Growing Up New Zealand” which was published in JAMA Psychology in early 2017. Their findings revealed that 2.3 percent of the men who participated in the study reported feelings of depression during the pregnancy, and 4.3 percent reported such feelings after their partner gave birth.
While this number is significantly lower than the percentage of women who are affected by prenatal and postnatal depression, it’s still statistically significant and warrants further study and greater public awareness.
A much larger analysis in the United States produced similar findings. Researchers at Eastern Virginia Medical School analyzed data from 43 different studies around the world to determine the prevalence of “paternal depression.” The studies included data from over 28,000 adults in multiple countries. The researchers found that 10.4 percent of men experienced depression during their partner’s pregnancy as well as afterward.
While paternal depression symptoms were found in several different countries, it was discovered that men in the United States were more likely than those of other nationalities to experience it. It’s unclear exactly why this is, but the family leave laws (or lack thereof) for fathers in some U.S. states could be a contributing factor. The added pressure of a new child on top of work and other responsibilities can manifest itself in the form of frustration, anger or moodiness, according to the research.
Effects on the Family
Whether it occurs in the mother or the father, depression affects the entire family. One seven-year study, involving 10,000 participants, was conducted to determine what the long-term effects of paternal depression would be on the family and the wellbeing of the child. The study was published in JAMA Psychology in 2008, and it found that children of fathers with paternal depression were more likely to develop behavior problems by the time they were 3 ½ years old, and more likely to develop some form of psychiatric disorder by the time they were 7.
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If you’re a new father and are experiencing symptoms of depression, or if your partner is currently pregnant and you’re experiencing symptoms, make sure you talk to someone about it and don’t isolate yourself. While paternal depression isn’t the same as full-blown clinical depression, it’s still important to have a support system so you can work through it and be the best father you can be.