It’s not just young mothers, but fathers, who are at risk of depression, according to a Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine study.
The study found that symptoms of depression increased on average of 68 percent over the first five years of fatherhood.
The fathers studied were 25 years old when they became dads. They lived in the same home as their children.
“It’s not just new moms who need to be screened for depression, dads are at risk, too,” said Craig Garfield, M.D., lead author of the study. “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.”
Previous studies have shown depressed dads are more likely to hit their kids as punishment and read and interact less with their children. They are also more likely to be stressed and neglect their children.
Craig Mullins, a father of two, understands that all too well.
His daughter cried a lot when she was younger and had a condition known as colic. Babies with colic often cry more than three hours a day, three days a week for three weeks or longer, even though they are well-fed and otherwise healthy. And it’s typically at night, when parents are tired and need to sleep.
“She screamed a lot. That doesn’t explain how much she screamed,” Mullins told Katie Couric on the show Katie.
That, he said, often led to sleepless nights and arguments between him and his wife during times of exhaustion.
“I felt so isolated. I was confused about what was going on,” said Mullins on Katie. “I would really get upset really quickly… We were very sleep deprived.”
(Watch Katie segment with Craig Mullins below.)
Mullins is not alone, the study found.
“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,” Garfield said. “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.”
Compared to the children of non-depressed dads, children of depressed dads are at risk of having poor language and reading development and more behavior problems and conduct disorders.
Garfield, who is an associate professor in pediatrics and medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a pediatrician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital and Northwestern Memorial Hospital, says he hopes the study leads to more effective interventions and treatment for young fathers.
The results of the study were published in the journal Pediatrics.