The study—which was released online on Monday
and will be included in the April issue of Pediatrics—was spearheaded by Dr. Neal Davis, a pediatrician at the Intermountain Healthcare facility located in Murray, Utah.
A total of 1,746 fathers from 16 of the largest cities in the United States participated in the survey conducted between 1998 and 2000, making it the most comprehensive data gathered on this subject matter. Based on the study, 7% of these fathers with 1-year-old children have been found to have experienced some form of major depression, many of these instances tied to the birth of their child.
Results of the data gathered by the team also raised alarms on the risk of increased negative parenting behavior exhibited by fathers suffering postpartum depression. They determined that fathers suffering from postpartum depression are four times more likely to spank their children as opposed to fathers who do not suffer from any form of depression.
Dr. Craig Garfield—an assistant Pediatrics professor at the Northwestern University—and Dr. Richard Fletcher—a doctor from the University of Newcastle in Australia—said that the study recently conducted has raised a heightened awareness of postpartum depression among fathers.
"Less is known about depression in new dads," he said. "With fathers increasingly spending time on child care…it's important for pediatricians to pay attention to dads' mental health."
Apart from spanking their children, fathers suffering from postpartum depression have also been found to be less likely to read to their children, which has been considered by the researchers as an activity associated with positive parenting. They associated this to the fact that people suffering from depression unable to maintain focus—something that is required when reading to children.
In line with this, Dr. Davis pointed out that pediatricians are in the best position to address the matter. The team recommended in their paper that pediatricians "should consider screening fathers for depression [by] discussing specific parenting behaviors [such as] reading to children and [implementing] appropriate discipline. [They should also consider] referring [them] for treatment should the need for it arise."
The recommendation was made based on the fact that 77% of fathers suffering from postpartum depression have talked to their child's pediatrician at least once, MedPageToday
Chris Illuminati, a writer and stay-at-home dad with a 1-year-old son, told the Washington Post
that although he never had a history of depression, he found himself silently answering "yes" to questions pertaining to postpartum depression he read on a postpartum brochure his child's pediatrician gave to his wife during an office visit.
While he realizes that he needs help, he has remained reserved about it. "I didn't know who to talk to," he explained. "I felt like a wuss if I mentioned it to anyone."
Illuminati's reservation is one of the many challenges Drs. Garfield and Fletcher saw medical practitioners will have to face in addressing this concern.
"The field of pediatrics [needs to find] ways to support fathers in their parenting role in the same way [they] support mothers," they pointed out. "[We need to get medical practitioners] to embrace paternal perinatal depression screening with the same vigor as for maternal screening."