Many have heard of post-natal depression in mothers, but it also something experienced by fathers. Now new research has found that a father’s post-natal depression can result in emotional issues for their teenage daughters.
The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, was based on a sample of over three thousand families living in Bristol in the UK. They found that nearly one in 20 new dads experienced depression in the weeks after the birth of their children.
3176 fathers and child pairs were examined from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a study that had been ongoing since 1991.
Previous research on the families in Bristol showed a link between post-natal depression in fathers and emotional or behavioural problems in their children at aged three and a half and seven.
For this study, researchers were able to check in and see whether post-natal depression in fathers had impacted the children as they grew older.
“We were able to follow up offspring of fathers with depression from birth through to the age of 18. We show that those young people whose fathers had been depressed back when they were born had an increased risk of depression at the age 18 years,” Dr. Leticia Gutierrez-Galve, firth author of the study, told Theravive.
“We found that a teenage girl is more at risk of developing mental health problems if her father has experienced post-natal depression. It appears that depression in fathers can cause increased level of stress in the whole family, and that this might be one way in which offspring may be affected,” she said.
Sons were found not to be impacted the same way as daughters, and it is unclear why they respond differently. The researchers suggest it may be due to certain aspects of the father-daughter relationship as girls go through their teenage years.
The researchers say one of the reasons behind the pattern is because post-natal depression in dads is sometimes linked to an increase in maternal depression rates. This in turn may cause more disruption to the family unit and higher levels of stress for every member of the family. It may also impact how children interact with their parents.
Traditionally, perinatal services that deal with post-natal depression have typically been the domain of mothers. But the researchers say the findings of their study highlight the important need of identifying depression in fathers after their children are born, and providing services for men experiencing post-natal depression.
“Depression in fathers in the postnatal period has potential implications for family and mental health problems in their offspring into childhood and adolescence,” Gutierrez-Galve said
“Paternal depression should be thought about in perinatal services, and both parents should be considered when one parent presents with depression. Screening programmes for both mothers and fathers in the postnatal period should be considered,” she said.
Experts say it is essential fathers also receive support in the post-natal period, as it can have a negative impact on the whole family if left untreated. Fathers who aren’t receiving adequate support for their depression may withdraw, feel angry and use negative coping skills like avoidance of situations.
Post-natal depression may develop between one month up to a year after the birth of a child. Signs that a person may be experiencing post-natal depression include feeling very low, empty, ashamed or worthless. A parent experiencing post-natal depression may have feelings of inadequacy, failure or guilt. They may feel exhausted, have trouble sleeping, or sleep for too long or have nightmares. Feelings of anxiety or panic may also be present, as well as excessive worry about their new baby and fears of leaving the house or being alone.
Although all parents experience a period of adjustment immediately following the birth, this period will typically only last a few days and not be significantly worrying. If feelings extend beyond a few days after birth, it may be a sign of post-natal depression.
The researchers note that many children won’t experience depression following a parent’s post-natal depression, but it is still important to raise awareness of post-natal depression in fathers as well as mothers.
Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald, News.com.au, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.