Depression

Updated 17 February 2017

Depression can also strike expectant and new dads

A study shows that men who are stressed or in poor health seem to be at special risk for depression directly before and after the birth of a child.

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During pregnancy the focus is firmly on the mom to be, and after the arrival of the baby, the new bundle of joy becomes the main attraction. This is quite normal and the way it should be – but what happens when dad feels left out and gets all depressed?

A Health24 reviewed article defines depression as "a medical illness of which there are several forms" – adding that everyone feels "down" at certain points in life, but when the lows last for long periods and affect general functioning and behaviour, the person may be suffering from a Depressive Disorder.

Depression in and just after pregnancy is most often associated with moms-to-be, but a new study shows expectant dads can have similar symptoms.

Increasing awareness

Expectant and new fathers who are in poor health or have high levels of stress are at increased risk for depression, the New Zealand research showed.

Many men may not realise pregnancy-linked depression can hit them too.

"It is important to recognise and treat symptoms among fathers early and the first step in doing that is arguably increasing awareness," said a team led by Lisa Underwood of the University of Auckland.

The research involved more than 3,500 men, average age 33, who were interviewed while their partner was in the third trimester of her pregnancy. The men were then re-interviewed nine months after the birth of their child.

Poor physical health

Elevated depression symptoms were reported by 2.3 percent of the men during their partner's pregnancy and by 4.3 percent of the men nine months after their child was born, Underwood's team found.

A recent article published by Health24 argues that the reason new dads may feel depressed is because they feel like they're on the 'outside' and that moms may not always realise they're excluding dad from caring for the baby.

Research has shown that up to one in 10 men struggles with depression after childbirth, something that is usually associated with new mothers.

Men who felt stressed or who were in relatively poor physical health were more prone to elevated depression symptoms, the findings showed.

Paternal depression

And after a child's birth, depression symptoms in fathers were associated with being stressed during the pregnancy, and being in poor health or having a prior history of depression.

Other, social or relationship factors – no longer being in a relationship with the mother and/or being unemployed – also increased the odds for being depressed after the birth of a child, the study authors noted.

Two experts in psychiatric care said the issue of depression in new fathers is understudied.

While much is known about postpartum depression in women, "far less information or attention has been paid to the role of paternal depression on the family unit," said Dr Tina Walch. She is medical director at South Oaks Hospital in Amityville, New York.

Understanding and spotting the signs of paternal depression early "is the first step toward prevention or early treatment and improved health outcomes for fathers, mothers and their children," she said.

Dr Ami Baxi directs adult inpatient psychiatric services at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She agreed that "this study should emphasise the importance of paternal well-being during and after pregnancy", and the importance of keeping expectant and new dads stress-free and healthy.

The study was published online in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Read more:

Nearest and dearest depressed?

Postpartum depression

Treating depression

 

Ask the Expert

Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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