New fathers with a history of depression are at a higher risk of suffering from postpartum depression, a new study has found.
In a groundbreaking University College London (UCL) study, research which analyzed the medical records of 90,000 men who became fathers within the past year sheds light on a rarely discussed issue that affects some men during the transitional period of parenthood.
The study found that men who had previously used an antidepressant were 30 times more likely to take an antidepressant again in the first year after the birth of their child. The researchers, led by Professor Irene Peterson, emphasized that postnatal depression in fathers was not a risk for all men, but was more likely to affect those who were already prone to depression.
Professor Peterson explained: “Some of these people may have continued with treatment they were already taking, but others have not had a recent prescription and may have experienced depression again. They may have been more aware of symptoms and sought treatment – we looked at use of antidepressant treatment, not diagnosis. What we observed is that [paternal post-natal depression] This is not a risk unless you are prone to depression. But having a baby can be a trigger for some men.”
While the focus on mental health during pregnancy and postpartum typically focuses on women, this study underscores the need to focus on the mental well-being of new fathers as well. The researchers suggest that fathers should consider having a mental health check-up with their GP in the first year after parenthood.
Holly Smith, lead researcher and PhD candidate involved in the study, emphasized the complexity of the relationship between depression and parenthood. “The relationship between depression and fatherhood is complex, but we found that previous antidepressant treatment is a major determinant associated with antidepressant use in the year after having a baby. This may be because men are continuing treatment they were receiving before having a baby, or these men may be more vulnerable to feelings of depression again, and the challenges of having a new baby may exacerbate this.”
The study also highlighted the effect of social deprivation on the likelihood of receiving an antidepressant prescription. Fathers living in the most deprived areas had an 18 per cent higher risk of being prescribed antidepressants than fathers living in the least deprived areas.
Postnatal depression affects one in ten new mothers, and a similar proportion of men suffer from depression during their partner’s pregnancy and the first year of parenthood, this study showed. With increasing rates of depression among adults, the research emphasizes the importance of recognizing and addressing mental health issues in both mothers and fathers during the critical period of welcoming a new baby into the family.
As awareness grows about the mental health challenges new fathers face, the researchers hope that healthcare providers and society at large will prioritize support and resources for men as they navigate the profound changes that come with fatherhood.