While it was believed that children whose parents are depressed are themselves at increased risk for depression, anxiety disorder, or other mental-health problems during childhood, there wasn’t a whole lot of scientific evidence to support the claims, until now.
The study, which consisted of observing 3176 fathers and their children living in and around Bristol, decided to undergo the process in order to establish the effect of postnatal depression experienced by fathers on their children in the long term as part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children which originally started back in 1991 and is still to this day ongoing, with the results published in JAMA Psychiatry.
The research from the study discovered that a “small but significant” link was found, proving that there was an increased risk of depression for females at age 18 if their fathers had experienced depression after their birth. However, the results from the study also confirmed that it was slightly different for sons – showing that there was no detectable increased risk after their birth. The researchers themselves couldn’t pin definitively why this was the case and why paternal postnatal depression disproportionately affects girls to boys, although haven’t ruled out further study to understand the details more.
Dr Paul Ramchandani, of the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, recently spoke to the Guardian on the matter, stating that “Research from this study of families in Bristol has already shown that fathers can experience depression in the postnatal period as well as mothers. What is new in this paper is that we were able to follow up the young people from birth through to the age of 18, when they were interviewed about their own experience of depression. Those young people whose fathers had been depressed back when they were born had an increased risk of depression at age 18 years.”
So, why is it that daughters are more impacted by their father’s postnatal depression than sons? Researchers have pinned the answer to discoveries from other previous research in the study area which found that paternal depression could cause maternal depression and conflict within the individuals home, according to the Guardian reports. The discovery which has in turn represented itself in emotional and behavioural difficulties in the past for their children at the particular ages of three and seven.
According to the previous studies in the area, researchers have looked into the way that post-natal depression can impact the development of children as they grow up, in both male and females. The research has shown that services after birth are largely focused on spotting postnatal depression within mothers, which a study from the University of Bristol suggested could suggest that fathers may slip through the net in this field due to the overwhelming focus around mothers in particular during this time.
Speaking about the research conducted in 2005, Dr Paul Ramchandani said, “Although largely neglected to date, paternal depression in the postnatal period should be recognised and treated by healthcare professionals in order to lessen any adverse effects on the child.”
Dr Paul Ramchandani explained, “the influence of fathers in very early childhood may have been under-estimated in the past, but these findings indicate that paternal depression has a specific and persisting impact on children’s early behavioural and emotional development and that fathers influence their children’s development from very early in life.”
Men’s mental health is more on the societal radar these days more so than ever before, but arguably less so in terms of fatherhood. So in saying that, if men’s mental health was looked at more closely after the birth of a child, could these problems be prevented? Fathers with poorer mental health were statistically less likely to feel effective as parents and were less confident in their own parenting. They were found to generally be more critical of, less patient and less consistent in parenting behaviours with their children. They were also found to be less likely to be involved with their child’s school or early education service and less likely to feel confident about helping them with their school work. All factors which suggest that putting in place resources for fathers – much like we have for mothers – could increase the quality of life for both themselves and their children.