This article tells us that fathers are significantly less likely to experience depression during the first 12 years of their child’s life than are mothers (Medical News Today, 9/7/10). Specifically, about 20% of fathers had a bout of depression during that time versus about 33% of mothers. Those findings suggest another argument for keeping fathers in children’s lives – they tend to add a layer of emotional stability to the parental part of the family. That in turn affects children. As the authors of the study report,
Depression in parents is associated with adverse behavioral, developmental and cognitive outcomes in their children.
The study was done in the United Kingdom using medical and pharmacy records of 86,957 families during the years 1993-2007. Among other things it found that,
19,286 mothers had 23,176 episodes of depression
8,012 fathers had 9,683 episodes of depression
A depression rate of 7.53 per 100 mothers per year
A depression rate of 2.69 per 100 fathers per year
Highest rates were detected during the first year of a child’s life, when 13.93 per 100 mothers and 3.56 per 100 fathers experienced depression.
The authors explained the increased incidence of depression among new parents this way:
These high rates of depression in the postpartum period are not surprising owing to the potential stress associated with the birth of a baby, e.g., poor parental sleep, the demands made on parents and the change in their responsibilities, and the pressure this could place on the couple’s relationship.
Depression is most likely in the first year after birth. It’s also more prevalent among the poor and younger parents who add financial stress to the usual stress of parenting. The authors add,
There is a well-established link between depression and social and economic deprivation both in the general population and among parents. This finding may reflect the stresses of poverty, unemployment, low employment grade and lower social support among people of lower socioeconomic status. Younger parents may be less prepared for parenthood with more unplanned pregnancies and may be less able to deal with the stresses of parenthood compared with older parents.
So, depression is fairly common among parents in the first 12 years of a child’s life and parental depression is associated with poorer child outcomes than the lack thereof. Fathers, meanwhile are less prone to depression than are mothers even though the hormonal changes they undergo are similar. All that strikes me as another good argument for greater paternal involvement with children. If Mom gets depressed, Dad’s less likely to be and can provide the emotional presence without which children tend to respond poorly.