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A quarter of new dads are depressed

Postnatal depression affects 25% of fathers at 3-6 months after birth

OnMedica staff

Thursday, 20 May 2010

One in 10 fathers have prenatal or postpartum depression, and rates are much higher in the 3- to 6-month period after their baby is born, research shows. The paper appears in this week’s special issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, which focuses on mental health.

Paternal depression has been researched and understood far less well than maternal depression, which is known to negatively affect personal, family and child developmental outcomes, say the authors from Virginia, US.

They conducted a meta-analysis to determine the prevalence of, risk factors for, and effects of depression in new fathers. They also looked at its association with maternal depression. Their analysis included 43 studies that recorded depression in fathers throughout pregnancy and their baby’s first year (totalling more than 28,000 participants).

The researchers found that:

  • Overall, paternal depression was estimated to affect about one in ten new fathers (10.4%) whereas the estimated 12-month prevalence of depression among men generally is 4.8%.
  • Paternal depression was least likely in the baby’s first three months of life (7.7%) and most likely in the 3- to 6-month postpartum period (25.6%).
  • Reported rates of paternal prenatal and postpartum depression varied between countries, with higher rates in the US (14.1% vs. 8.2% internationally).
  • There was a moderate correlation between depression in fathers and mothers.

“The observation that expecting and new fathers disproportionately experience depression suggests that more efforts should be made to improve screening and referral, particularly in light of the mounting evidence that early paternal depression may have substantial emotional, behavioural, and developmental effects on children.

“The correlation between paternal and maternal depression also suggests [that] depression in one parent should prompt clinical attention to the other,” the authors write.

“Future research in this area should focus on parents together to examine the onset and joint course of depression in new parents,” they add. “This may increase our capacity for early identification of parental depression, add leverage for prevention and treatment, and increase the understanding of how parental depression conveys risk to infants and young children.”

JAMA 2010;303[19]:1961-69.

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