A James Cook University study has found men have some unique risk factors for depression around the time a baby is born.
Medical doctor and PhD candidate at JCU Dr Jasleen Chhabra said the phenomenon of paternal perinatal (from the first trimester of pregnancy to a year after the birth of a baby) depression is an under-researched phenomenon.
“Like women, men also show signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety in this perinatal period. One large study found more than 10 per cent of Australian fathers suffer from this. The number globally is estimated at nearly 8.5 per cent. And we know that depression is underreported in men, so that’s probably on the low side.
“Quite apart from the terrible burden on the father, paternal perinatal anxiety and depression can have a negative impact on a child’s behaviour, mental health, and learning capabilities,” said Dr Chhabra.
She said men often felt the need to hide depression, resulting in them externalising symptoms such as physical illness, alcohol and drug abuse, and domestic violence.
“We wanted to find the risk factors associated with paternal perinatal depression and anxiety and the unique risk factors for fathers compared to those for mothers,” said Dr Chhabra.
The team studied results from more than 31,000 people who took part in 45 research programs worldwide.
“The findings suggest that maternal depression, marital problems, and parental stress – over money, coping with the new baby or other lifestyle changes – are important risk factors for fathers’ mental health in the perinatal period,” said Dr Chhabra.
She said while those factors affect women too, researchers also found risk factors unique to men.
“Gender role stress – the social pressure for men to perform as the provider, to be physically and sexually competent, to be able to operate in a competitive world and be emotionally open – was one factor. We found that men not having the same expectations of pregnancy as their partner was another and men suffering domestic violence in their relationships was a third unique factor,” said Dr Chhabra.
She said intervention programs should specifically target fathers with no previous children and/or a depressed partner and aim to enhance relationship satisfaction.
“Healthcare professionals should also be aware that fathers who adhere to traditional gender norms may have negative attitudes towards seeking help, and are at risk of being underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed,” said Dr Chhabra.