Compared to fathers who do not suffer from depression, dads who are depressed were nearly four times likely to report that they spank their child, and less likely to report that they read to their child.
Those findings, from a new study published in the April print issue of Pediatrics show that depression in dads can negatively affect a young child’s health and development.
When fathers in the study were asked about their interaction with their children, both the depressed dads and the non-depressed dads reported that they did regularly play games, sing, or talk to their child.
Researchers say that suggests that those activities may be more routine behaviors for fathers than reading. Perhaps it simply takes more mental energy to sit down and engage a child while reading aloud, and more mental energy to refrain from using physical punishment when a child needs guidance and discipline.
The good news is that 77 percent of depressed fathers reported talking to their child’s pediatrician in the previous year. That means visits to the pediatrician may provide an ideal opportunity to discuss specific parenting behaviors – and enable doctors to refer depressed fathers for appropriate treatment.
Postpartum depression has been found to affect dads as well as moms. In May 2010, JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that an average of 10.4 percent of dads suffered from depression sometime between the first trimester of their partner’s pregnancy and the child’s first birthday.
That’s double the rate of depression estimated for men in the general population.
Mild to moderate depression in fathers has been shown to have lasting negative effects on their children for years to come, say experts.
But for dads, and men in general, admitting they may be depressed flies in the face of the cultural myth that men need to be mentally and physically strong no matter what.
Some of the symptoms of depression – fatigue, sleep deprivation, loss of appetite, anxiety – mirror what many new parents face as they adapt to life with a baby.
How do you distinguish what is normal and what may signal more serious signs of depression symptoms?
Symptoms can vary from person to person and over time. Experts say anyone who feels hopeless or worthless, has a sense of detachment from reality, or faces reoccurring thoughts of death should seek medical attention.
Researchers also note that when moms show signs of postpartum depression, it is important also to ask how dad is doing.
Read more about what men say about their experiences with depression- watch videos, and see a list of symptoms — at the National Institute for Mental Health website.