New fathers need help with depression: New Zealand study

A paper published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry finds that just over four percent of new fathers experience elevated symptoms of depression after their children are born. With this increased awareness and visibility, more new mums are aware of the risks and symptoms of postpartum depression (or even postpartum psychosis) - and therefore more likely to seek treatment if necessary. Their symptoms were ranked on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, a screening tool that's also used in women who've given birth.

Overall 8.3 per cent of men reported a history of depression compared with 17.9 per cent of women.

Study author Dr Lisa Underwood said that while maternal antenatal and postnatal depression were recognized and known to be associated with poor outcomes for women and children, little had been done to identify perinatal depression symptoms in men. At the moment, the concept of new dads experiencing postpartum depression is relatively new. Since men were interviewed only during third trimester of pregnancy and nine months after giving birth, the results might not reveal what could be discover during the first two trimesters or the period immediately after giving birth. Another 2.3 percent experienced symptoms of depression during their partners' third trimester, as well.

But afterwards men are more likely to be depressed if stressed out before the arrival of their child, they had broken up, were ill or lost their job. Scientists estimate approximately 14 percent of new mothers experience depression after delivery. "The lack of screening for paternal depression in New Zealand mirrors the global situation", explained the study's lead author Lisa Underwood.

Postpartum depression is still significantly less prevalent among men than among women.

Stress, poor health and relationship problems put men at higher risk.

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Researchers don't know why some women are more vulnerable to postpartum depression, though they suspect genetics, previous mental health issues, and sleep deprivation after birth all could play a part.

For the new study, researchers at the University of Auckland interviewed a diverse group of more than 3,500 New Zealand men with pregnant partners about their mental health.

New dads also often questioned the legitimacy of their feelings and worry that needing support for themselves would detract from support for their partners, Littlewood said.

University of Auckland research fellow Lisa Underwood, who led the study, said, "The rates of antenatal and postnatal paternal depression that we found are consistent with previous similar studies in other countries including the United States".

"Increasingly, we are becoming aware of the influence that fathers have on their children's psychosocial and cognitive development", Underwood said in a statement.

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