At least five percent of new fathers suffer clinical depression in the first few weeks of parenthood, according to a new study. And dad’s depression may have long-term impacts on the family. Researchers have found that fathers who fight postnatal depression are more likely to raise daughters who, by age 18, were battling depression themselves. Though it’s not entirely clear how this unfortunate inheritance is passed along, new data indicates a strong correlation.
“Family environment has been reported as a pathway for risk transmission from fathers to children,” write the authors of the study, published in JAMA Psychiatry. “Paternal depression during the postnatal period has been associated with adverse child outcomes.”
A spate of studies have attempted to pinpoint rates of postpartum depression in new dads. This most recent work study suggests it’s about 1 in 20; prior work has put it higher, between 7 percent and 10 percent, compared to about 12 percent of new mothers. It’s unclear what causes postpartum depression in men, but it may have the same hormonal basis as the condition in women. Several studies have linked depression in new fathers to dips in testosterone.
How this depression impacts the family in the long-term remains a fairly open question. In an effort to find a causal mechanism, researchers analyzed data from 3,176 father-offspring pairs. “Depression in fathers is linked with an increased level of stress in the whole family, and that this might be one way in which offspring may be affected,” wrote study coauthor Paul Ramchandani of the University of Cambridge, in a statement. “Whilst many children will not be affected by parental depression in this way, the findings of this study highlight the importance of providing appropriate help to fathers, as well as mothers, who may experience depression.”
While the study also found that maternal depression and poor child behavior contribute to the risk, paternal depression registered as a factor unto itself. It’s worth noting that the link was not statistically, but that the study authors believe it is worth studying in more detail as “stress” is not a particularly well-defined trigger mechanism.
The lack of substantive research on postpartum depression among men and the indication that it might have long term effects on families represents part of a growing case for more research on the emotional lives of new dads — the consequences of those emotional lives on children.