Paternal postnatal depression – new research findings

Paternal postnatal depression – new research findings

By Liz Lockhart

Postnatal depression is a condition which has deservedly received much attention in research, the media and in terms of general awareness.  Postnatal depression in women is well documented and understood even if treatment sometimes seems sketchy. 

Mental Healthy covered the topic of postnatal depression in fathers in an article called ‘Men get postnatal depression too’ after revelations from a study showed that this condition can affect fathers as well as mothers.

New research not only confirms this fact but also looks at the implication that this can have on the children born to sufferers of this condition.  A recent study focuses on prenatal and postnatal depression in fathers.

The study is titled ‘Incidence of maternal and paternal depression in primary care : a cohort study using a primary care database.  The lead authors are S. Dave and Navzareth L. Sherr.

Dave and colleagues examines the incidence of paternal depression and maternal depression in primary care practices.  The researchers used a database that included 86,957 mother, father and child triads.

The rates of depression were highest in the first year postpartum for both fathers and mothers.  The incidence of depression (per 100-person years) was 3.6 for fathers and 13.9 for mothers. 

Younger parents (aged between 15-24 years), parents with a history of depress and parents from deprived areas were found to be at the highest risk for depression.

This study shows that there is a high risk of depression for both mothers and fathers following the birth of their children.  The researchers suggest that fathers, as well as mothers, should be screened for depression.

The rates of prenatal and postnatal depression in fathers was also studied by Paulson and Bazemore in a study entitled ‘Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression.

This research looked at 43 previous studies that identified depression in fathers between the first trimester and the first year postpartum.  The overall rate of paternal depression was 10.4% during the first trimester and one year postpartum.  A significant finding is that the highest rates of depression (25.6%) ere found during the 3 to 6 month postpartum period.  A moderate positive correlation was found between maternal and paternal depression.  The findings highlight the high incidence of paternal depression in the prenatal period and during the 1-year period after the birth of a child.

Yet another study draws attention to an increased risk of suicide in fathers with mood didorders during the postpartum period.  The study is entitled ‘Risk of suicide and mixed episode in men in the postpartum period.’ 

In this study Quevedo and colleagues assed 650 men for suicide risk in the antenatal period and within 30 to 60 days postpartum. 

The prevalence of suicide risk in this period for fathers was 4.8%.  Fathers without a mood disorder were compared to fathers with postpartum depression and those with mixed episodes were 20 and 46 times respectively more likely to be at risk for suicide.

Important information can be seen in a further study which was entitled ‘Father’s depression related to positive and negative parenting behaviours with 1-year-old children’.  In this study Davis and colleagues interviewed 1746 fathers of one year old children about their parenting behaviours.  7% of these fathers said they had had an episode of major depression within the previous year. Depressed fathers were more likely to have spanked their children in the previous month compared to fathers who were not depressed (41% and 13% respectively)  The researchers concluded that postnatal depression in fathers may lead to negative parenting behaviours.

These studies highlight the necessity to identify depression in the prenatal and postnatal periods for parents.  It would appear that clinicians need to screen both mothers and fathers for depression thus avoiding adverse outcomes for their children. 

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