New dads can experience depression, too, and it can have lasting effects on their children

Oliver H., a new dad
Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Mothers of young children are not the only ones who can experience depression, according to a new U.S. study. Fathers are just as likely to have depression, and if left untreated, it can have serious consequences for their children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends that parents get screened for depression during childcare visits. While not performed widely throughout the United States, studies have found that 5 percent of mothers and 4.4 percent of fathers have screened positive for depression.

“The fact that so many new dads are experiencing this is significant, because depression can have serious consequences if left untreated,” said lead study author Erika Cheng, a pediatrics researcher at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

Fathers who are depressed are less engaged with their children, and this disengagement can lead to cognitive and behavioral problems, Cheng told the New York Post.

Symptoms of depression, which include sadness, irritability, agitation, and anger, are often hidden by males. However, depression is a treatable condition, and men are encouraged to seek help.

The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that fathers are not as often screened for depression because they are not as present as mothers at well-baby and well-child checkups. The study, which observed 9,500 visits to pediatrics clinics, saw that fathers were present at more than 2,900 visits, or about 31 percent of the time.

Out of all the parents evaluated, only 12 percent of people who were diagnosed with depression were male. However, it is believed this low figure is due to fathers going undiagnosed and untreated for depression.

The study is limited, however, as it draws on data from just five pediatric clinics in Indianapolis. In addition, not all of the people who exhibit symptoms for the mental health disorder end up being diagnosed with depression.

Men also may not report the same symptoms as women. For example, according to Karen Wynter, a researcher in nursing and midwifery at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, men are more likely to report irritability, anger, and dangerous alcohol use as opposed to “tearfulness.”

While many new parents are exhausted from their new and stressful duties, they should communicate with their child’s doctor if they are experiencing symptoms of depression so they can receive the help they need — and, ultimately, be the best parent they can for their child.

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