High Number of Moms - and Dads - Experience Depression, Study Says
We didn't need a research study to tell us being a parent can be overwhelming at times, but we were surprised to learn just how many people suffer from depression after their babies are born.
Thirty-nine percent of mothers and 21 percent of fathers in the United Kingdom reportedly experience an episode of depression by the time their child is 12, with the highest rates of depression seen during their baby's first year, according to a new study.
This is notable, since depression in parents of young children is associated with "adverse behavioral and developmental outcomes" in the children, lead author Irwin Nazareth, a professor of primary care at University College London, tells ParentDish in an e-mail.
The study, which will appear in the November issue of "Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine," looked for evidence of parental depression in 86,957 U.K. families seen in primary care physicians' offices between 1993 and 2007.
Over the course of the study period, more than seven out of every 100 mothers and nearly three out of every 100 fathers were found to be depressed per year. Those figures increased dramatically the first year after a child's birth -- with nearly 14 mothers and four fathers out of 100 experiencing depression during that period.
Higher rates of depression are expected among parents compared with the general population, the researchers say. And the high rates of depression in the postpartum period are not surprising, Nazareth tells ParentDish.
"Many reasons have been attributed to the higher rates of depression in parents in an infant's first year," he says. "Most people can identify with the pressures associated with having a child, such as poor parental sleep, the demands made on parents by the new arrival and hence their change in responsibilities and, lastly, the pressure this could place on the couples' relationship."
The high rate of depression in the first year after delivery may also be due, in part, to the number of women who may have been suffering from depression prior to becoming pregnant, but stopped taking antidepressant medications during the pregnancy and/or while they were breastfeeding, the authors report.
The researchers also theorize that the decline in depression seen after the first year of birth could be due to postpartum depression settling.
The authors report that theirs is the first study to assess the incidence of depression in both moms and dads, as recorded by primary care physicians over the course of their offspring's childhood.
And, while a lot of research has been done on the effects on the children in the case of mothers with depression, there has been little previous research on the effects of fathers, Nazareth says.
The researchers also determined that younger parents, parents with a previous history of depression before the birth of the child and parents from more deprived backgrounds are at particular risk of becoming depressed. As such, they recommend special attention be paid to these groups of people.
On the heels of these findings, further research is indicated to study other factors associated with depression in new parents, including screening and treatment, Nazareth says.
"Parents -- both mothers and fathers -- must be aware of the significant risk of both of them developing depression in the first year after the birth of the baby," he says. "Although screening for mother during pregnancy and just after the birth of the baby is commonly considered by doctors, no such policy exists for father. There is a need to also consider the risk of father developing depression in the first year."
Related: Postpartum Depression Affects Dads, Too
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.