New fathers can also suffer from postnatal depression: study

A man is seen carrying his newborn. Representational image by Unsplash
A man is seen carrying his newborn. Representational image by Unsplash

A new study has revealed that new fathers with a history of depression are at a higher risk of suffering from postnatal depression. 

In a groundbreaking study by the University College London (UCL), the research, which analysed medical records of 90,000 men who became fathers within the previous year, sheds light on a rarely discussed issue that affects some men during the transformative period of parenthood.

The study found that men who had previously used antidepressants were 30 times more likely to be prescribed them again in the first year after their child’s birth. The researchers, led by Professor Irene Petersen, emphasised that postnatal depression in fathers was not a risk for all men, but rather was more likely to affect those already prone to depression.

Professor Petersen explained, “Some of these men will have continued treatment they were already on, but others didn’t have a recent prescription and may have suffered a relapse of depression. It might be they are just more aware of the symptoms and sought treatment – we looked at antidepressant treatment use and not a diagnosis. What we did see is that [paternal post-natal depression] is not a risk unless you are prone to depression. But having a child might be a trigger for some men.”

While the focus on mental health during pregnancy and postpartum typically centres on women, this study underscores the need to pay attention to 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 becoming a parent.

Holly Smith, the lead researcher and PhD candidate involved in the study, emphasised the complexity of the relationship between depression and fatherhood. “The relationship between depression and fatherhood is complex, but we found previous antidepressant treatment is a key determinant associated with antidepressant use in the year after having a child. This may be because the men are continuing treatment they were on before having a child, or these men may be more susceptible to having feelings of depression again, and the challenges of having a new child may exacerbate this.”

The study also highlighted the influence of social deprivation on the likelihood of receiving an antidepressant prescription. Fathers living in the most deprived areas had an 18 percent higher risk of being prescribed antidepressants compared to fathers in the least deprived areas.

Postnatal depression affects one in ten new mothers, and this study has revealed that a similar proportion of men suffer from depression during their partner’s pregnancy and the first year of parenthood. With rising rates of depression among adults, the research underscores the importance of recognising and addressing mental health issues in both mothers and fathers during the critical period of welcoming a new child into the family.

As awareness grows around the mental health challenges that new fathers can face, researchers hope that healthcare providers and society at large will prioritise support and resources for men as they navigate the profound changes that come with fatherhood.

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