The shape of the modern family is changing. Many families still look very traditional, with a mother and father and children, all of the same race. But more and more families are reflecting the diverse ethnic society that we have become. Two-parent households may consist of a mother and father of different races, or two mothers or two fathers, or other make-ups resulting from LGBTQ unions. Children are not always born into families today. Many are adopted from other countries and brought to the United States. For any parents, adjusting to the transition from singlehood to parenthood can be challenging. But for adoptive parents, other barriers exist.
Although postpartum depression has been extensively researched after biological birth occurs, less focus has been given to the factors leading up to postpartum depression in adoptive parents. To address this obvious void in literature, Karen J. Foli of Purdue University’s School of Nursing recently led a study that looked at what contributed to depression in the two years after fathers adopted children. She conducted an online survey of adoptive fathers and found that nearly 25% of those questioned reported being depressed. Some of the factors that the fathers cited were the young age of the child, low social and familial support, lack of feeling bonded to the child, and difficulty adjusting to the role of being a parent.
Foli noted that all of these factors contributed greatly to depression in the men. Clinicians and professionals working with adoptive parents should understand that men may exhibit symptoms of depression quite differently than women. They may have more anger and anxiety than sadness. They may immerse themselves in their work in order to escape their feelings and avoid the home situation that causes them stress. Additionally, many depressed men also have somatic signs, such as ill feeling, insomnia or headaches. Lack of resources, both emotional and financial, was a big factor that predicted depression in men. Other factors were lack of sexual intimacy with a partner, feeling incompetent as a parent, and change in social status at work. Postpartum depression in the mothers also proved to increase the risk of depression in the fathers.
Although studies have shown that depressed mothers have a negative effect on children, depressed fathers can raise the risk for substance use, behavior issues, and depression in children as well. “Further research is needed to specifically grasp the dynamics of paternal depression and its relationship to maternal depression in the postplacement time period,” Foli said. Therefore, Foli believes it is necessary for adoption services and community liaisons to offer in-home follow up care after the adoption, to ensure the mental health of both parents is being addressed adequately. Ultimately, the better the psychological condition of the parents, the better the psychological outcome of the child.
Foli, K. J., South, S. C., Lim, E., and Hebdon, M. (2012). Depression in adoptive fathers: An exploratory mixed methods study. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030482
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