MONDAY, April 14, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Young fathers may be
at increased risk of depression symptoms after their baby arrives,
all the way through to the child's kindergarten, a new study
Researchers found that for men who become fathers in their 20s
and live with their children, depression symptoms tend to rise
during the first five years of the child's life.
Experts stressed that the findings don't mean that young dads
are destined to be clinically depressed. The study didn't prove
that early fatherhood causes depressive symptoms -- it only showed
an association between the two.
"But this does show us a time period where fathers are at increased risk," said lead researcher Dr. Craig Garfield, an associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
The new research was published online April 14 in
Pediatricsand in the May print issue of the journal.
Many studies have looked into the risk of postpartum depression
for mothers, but research into fathers' mental health during this
period is much newer, Garfield said. Studies so far suggest that 5
percent to 10 percent of new dads develop clinical depression after
the baby arrives.
What's more, researchers have found that when fathers are
depressed, children tend to have more behavioral problems and
weaker reading and language skills.
It's not clear what role dads' depression plays in those
problems. But "when parents thrive, children thrive," Garfield
said, so both parents' mental health is important.
For the new study, Garfield's team used data from a long-running
project that began following more than 20,000 U.S. teens in the
1990s. Every few years, the participants completed a 10-question
screening tool on depression symptoms -- asking whether they felt
unhappy, tired or disliked, for example.
Of the more than 10,600 young men in the study, one-third had
become fathers by the time they were aged 24 to 32. And, Garfield's
team found, dads' depression scores showed a clear shift over
Among fathers living with their children, depression scores rose
by an average of 68 percent over the first five years of their
child's life. Fathers who weren't living with their children showed
a different trend: Their depression symptoms rose after high
school, and then started to decline after they became fathers.
While that 68 percent rise sounds big, it is an average for the
group, Garfield said. And for many men, even that much of a change
would not be enough to push them into clinical depression.
"Many men started off with very low [scores], so even with that increase they probably wouldn't screen positive for depression," Garfield noted. "But some would."
Why do some men get depressed after the baby arrives? "We really
don't understand the reasons yet," Garfield said.
With new moms, experts suspect that depression arises from a mix
of stress and the biological changes that come with pregnancy and
childbirth. Men's bodies aren't affected by fatherhood, but their
lives definitely change, noted Eric Lewandowski, of the Child Study
Center at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.
New fathers may feel added financial strain or stress on their
marriage, for example, said Lewandowski, who was not involved in
"The transition can be a tough one," he said, "especially around the age at which these men became fathers -- in their mid-20s."
It's not clear, Lewandowski noted, whether the findings might be
different for men who become fathers in their 30s or beyond.
Both he and Garfield said the results call attention to fathers'
mental health. "Parenting is a team sport, and understanding how
men transition into fatherhood is important, too," Garfield
There are no guidelines on when or how to screen new fathers for
depression. But more research into the issue could change that,
For now, Lewandowski said it's important for new parents to be
prepared for the reality of having a child. "It's not all roses.
It's tough," he noted.
On the other hand, he said, there's "the joy of having a child,"
and it's hard for a scientific study to measure that and "weigh" it
against the less positive aspects of parenting. And maybe for most
moms and dads, Lewandowski said, the joy and the difficulties can
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on
depression in men.
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