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Research Links Young Dads To Risk Of Depression, But There’s Help


Your 20s are a time of freedom and energy. You’re expected to challenge yourself (and your liver) in college. Dating tends to be rapid fire and filled with shenanigans. There’s ample time to travel. And it’s all made possible by energy drinks, apps, student loans, and not having children. Which can make having a kid in your 20s a tad problematic. Particularly because strollers are frowned upon during dollar Jell-O shot night at the Leaping Frog Tavern.

It’s enough to make a guy pretty damn blue. And as it turns out, based on current research, those blues can run deep enough to be full-blown depression. Even worse? Depression in young fathers can be devastating to youthful families.

Depressed Dads

Right after birth, any dad young or “old” could be susceptible to the paternal form of postpartum depression. But that’s not necessarily what was being addressed in a 2014 study on depression in young fathers published in the journal Pediatrics. What the researchers did find was that being a young, first-time dad is correlated with a higher risk of depression over a long period of time. But so is being a Cleveland Browns fan in your 20s (or any age, really).

These insights were gleaned during a study in which researchers followed over 10,000 adolescent dudes for 20 years. Thirty-three percent of the participants became young fathers. The rest became wildly successful bikini judges (probably). For these young fathers there was a 68 percent increase in depressive symptoms over the first 5 years of their kid’s life which, to be honest, wasn’t the most fun you’ve ever had anyway.

A caveat here is that the 68 percent increase was an average for these rookies. Not all saw enough of a rise in depressive symptoms to push them into a clinical depression diagnosis. Still, they weren’t springing from bed every morning and doing a happy dance. So, perspective.

The Risks Of Depressed Dads

Raising a toddler can be a serious struggle for dads of any age. However, throwing mental health issues into the mix can make it even more difficult. And the researchers noted that young, depressed, first time fathers may struggle in some important areas during a key time in their kid’s life. They might:

  • Be more likely to use physical punishments like spanking
  • Have a tendency to yell or scream at children
  • Fail to engage in developmental tasks like reading or playing
  • Become neglectful
  • Display poor communication and co-parenting skills with their partner

Seeking Help

Researchers note that better depression screening is needed, particularly for young, first-time dads. But there is something more you can get from this story. If you’re a young dad and notice that you are engaging in any of the behaviors cited by the researchers, this may be your wake-up call to get help. Lord knows you can’t figure it out from YouTube the same way you learned how to patch a hole in your drywall.

There are some great guidelines for tracking down a therapist, but there are also some important things to realize about therapy. First, it does not mean that you are weak or damaged. Second, it’s not an easy fix that will be delivered to you in concrete instructions from your therapist. And finally, there are plenty of options, so find something that works for you.

Eventually you’ll come to realize that parenting in your 20s is a blessing too. After all, it’s not like you were going to be sleeping anyway. And you’re basically just trading one set of apps and loans for another while keeping the energy drinks flowing. Also, now you can make Jell-O shots at home. See? You’re not missing anything after all.