Depression Prevalent Among Young Fathers

April 15, 2014
Rachel Lutz

Young fathers are at risk of developing depression during their children's formative years, a study published in Pediatrics concluded.

Depressive symptoms are prevalent among young fathers, according to research published online April 14, 2014, in Pediatrics.

Researchers from Northwestern Medicine studied 10,623 young men enrolled in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), which follows adolescents in several waves for 20 years. The participants’ depressive symptoms were tracked using criteria from the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. The men from the most recent wave of the study were aged 24-32 years, of whom one-third had become fathers.

The researchers found a majority of the fathers lived in the same homes as their children, though fathers who did not live in the same home experienced increased depressive symptoms. Among fathers who lived with their children, depression scores were lower before birth but dramatically increased after birth and through 5 years, at an average of 68%.

“It’s not just new moms who need to be screened for depression; dads are at risk, too,” lead author Craig Garfield, MD, said in a press release. “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 research on depressed fathers showed they use more corporal punishment, read less, interact with their children less, and are more likely to be stressed and neglect their children. The children of depressed fathers are at an elevated risk for having poor language and reading development, as well as more behavioral problems and conduct disorders, compared to children of non-depressed fathers.

“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.”