Postnatal depression is well-known for mothers, but what about fathers? New research shows that both mothers and fathers can become depressed after their child is born. While the rates for men are lower than women across the board, depression peaks for both genders at the same time: within the first year after the child’s birth. The study looked at almost 87,000 families in the U.K. over a course of 14 years, and tracked parents’ reports of depression from the time of childbirth up to twelve years of age. Each year, 7.53% of all these mothers had depression and 2.69% of all the fathers had depression. The peak year, immediately following birth, saw depression in 13.93% of mothers and 3.56% of fathers.
Exactly what causes that depression is complicated, and the study’s authors believe it can be attributed to a wide range of factors. For women, the hormonal change of giving birth can make the immediate transition difficult, and some believe that women feel, even unconsciously, neglected as the attention turns from themselves to their child. For both men and women, the stress of raising a newborn child means decreased sleep and also strains the relationship and the couple’s financial situation. New parents must also adjust to a new social dynamic, and often experience less social interaction as they stay home to raise the infant. This element, as well as the financial component, is thought to be especially hard on younger parents, who are likely to be more social and less financially well-off.
Another study shows that women who experience psychological abuse during their pregnancy are twice as likely to experience postnatal depression. The challenge with this new data is that many abuse prevention programs focus on protecting women from physical and sexual violence. These are serious needs, but do result in a lack of attention to psychological abuse, say researchers. Screening pregnant women for their psychological well-being and treatment is just as important as ensuring her physical safety. In all cases, it is important for all who work with new and expectant parents to be aware of their mental health needs and direct them to therapy, counseling, and support services as necessary.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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