Study: New fathers struggle with depression, need interventions, too

Women aren’t the only ones at risk for depression and in need of screening services when a new baby comes into their lives. Young fathers face significant mental health challenges as well, according to a new study.

Published in the May issue of Pediatrics, researchers found that fathers who live in the same households as their children experience a decrease in depressive symptoms in the period immediately before their children are born. However, depressive symptoms among young fathers, who were around 25 years old when they became fathers, increased an average of 68 percent throughout their children’s first five years of life.

The study notes that depressed fathers are more likely to experience parenting-related stress, more likely to use corporal punishment and neglect their children, and less likely to interact with their sons and daughters. As a result, their children may be at higher risk of social problems throughout life, psychiatric problems later in life, and of experiencing delays in language and reading development. According to lead author Craig Garfield, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, the study is the first to pinpoint when young fathers face an increased risk of depression, which could help inform more precise and targeted interventions.

"It's not just new moms who need to be screened for depression, dads are at risk, too," Garfield said in a news release. "Parental depression has a detrimental effect on kids, especially during those first key years of parent-infant attachment. We need to do a better job of helping young dads transition through that time period."

To conduct the study, Garfield and his colleagues examined data from more than 10,600 young men who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The Pediatrics study found that young fathers who do not live with their children experienced high levels of depressive symptoms before their children are born, with such symptoms decreasing during the years of early fatherhood. That’s in contrast to fathers who live with their children — described as resident fathers in the study — who experience fewer symptoms before their children arrived and higher levels in the years after birth. Black and Hispanic young fathers experienced more depressive symptoms than white fathers — a finding that study authors warned may result in a “clinically significant rise” and may merit special attention.

Identifying and helping fathers struggling with depression could have a positive domino effect, improving health for the entire family, writes Garfield and co-authors Greg Duncan, Joshua Rutsohn, Thomas McDade, Emma Adam, Rebekah Levine Coley and P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale. However, reaching such fathers and getting them into appropriate treatment is a challenge, as the study notes that men ages 18 to 44 years old are less likely than women to interact with the health care system, have a primary care doctor or have health insurance. Though, the Affordable Care Act could start improving those numbers. Plus, the study noted that fathers often accompany their children to pediatric visits, which could make such clinical settings an ideal place for reaching young fathers at risk.

"This is a wakeup call for anyone who knows a young man who has recently become a new father,” Garfield said. “Be aware of how he is doing during his transition into fatherhood. If he is feeling extreme anxiety or blues or not able to enjoy things in life as he previously did, encourage him to get help."

To read the full study, visit Pediatrics.

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.

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It is very interesting that Black and hispanic fathers experience more depressive symptoms than white fathers; is this due to any religious or cultural aspects? I think that it is expected for men to also experience depression after having a child. It is not only the mother whose life is changing but the father as well, the father may even experience more stress than the mother as he may be expected to be the breadwinner and provide for his new family and in doing so have to give up things in his life.

By Shannon Collin… (not verified) on 29 Apr 2014 #permalink

It really is surprising to know that men also suffer from depression after having a child, i always thought they distanced themselves from their children because they simply did not care. I don't think this has anything to do with religion or culture though but with the mindset ,anxiety and the changes in lifestyle brought by new responsibility in other men it can be caused by unplanned pregnancies as in other women. The solution to this may be to go to counselling together as new parents and see how you can work things out

By NGQUKE Z.G u14055041 (not verified) on 29 Apr 2014 #permalink

I don't think it's that surprising at all that young fathers experience these feelings, especially young fathers that do not even live with their children! I believe that just like young mothers, young fathers also have a natural inborn instinct to protect and care for their families, especially their children. These feelings of depression might be a result of the fear of not being able to protect and care for their children. This applies even more to young fathers that do not live with there children, hence these feelings of depression.

By Berthold u14050537 (not verified) on 01 May 2014 #permalink

This is very interesting. Its something I'm almost certain that society never considered nor even pay attention to. Its great that the awareness of this has been brought up and society need to hear and learn of this. Could it be that black and hispanic young fathers experience depression more than white young fathers due to societal circumatances , perceptions or environments? I think that young fathers should be involved in the period of pregnancy as much as women are i.e going for check ups with their partners, exercise classes etc. What is the World Health Organization (WHO) doing about this? Are they planning to address this issue and if so, how are they planning to do it?

By Pearl Booysen … (not verified) on 02 May 2014 #permalink

Indeed this is a shocking discovery. Might this be caused by being too overwhelmed of being a new father before arrival of the baby? Generally most men tend not to the of the responsibilities of being a new parent because it looks so simple from a distance.

Do women by any chance contribute to new fathers suffering from depression perhaps for not granting fathers enough time with their children because of a nasty break-up or driven almost crazy by mothers who never wanted to fall pregnant and hence neglects the child?

I agree with Ngquke that couple's counselling may be the best solution to resolve the problem.

By N X Dlamini u1… (not verified) on 02 May 2014 #permalink

I have found this quite eye-opening and agree that this problem is often overlooked by society. However, it makes absolute sense that men are faced with such significant emotional challenges regarding fatherhood. In many cases, mothers chose to stay at home with their children for the first few months, or even years, leaving the father responsible for supporting his new family financially. Financial stress is one of the leading causes of depression and anxiety placing an individual at risk of becoming fearful of inadequacy or failure. A new father may also feel rejected. Obviously children require copious amounts of attention and so a mother’s time and effort is mainly focused on the infant/s. This then leads to the father feeling isolated and possibly unappreciated. To overcome these emotions, they must be acknowledged, vented and appropriately handled. Yet, it is an evolutionary derived concept that the male provides strength and protection and therefore men sometimes feel uncomfortable admitting their weaknesses or evaluating their emotions. Overall, I believe that it is a personal matter influenced by personality, culture, belief structures, circumstance and environment.

By Ashleigh Smith… (not verified) on 02 May 2014 #permalink

I have found it quite interesting that men can also suffer from depression after the birth of their child. I think that it can be as a result of emotional strain with regards to bonding with the child. Mothers have nine months to bond with their unborn child, where as fathers only really get to bond with their child after birth. There will always be the questions like 'will I be a good father' or "will my child love me even though he/she does not really know me as well as he/she knows their mother?". Emotional strains can be a really big burden to carry and therefore can easily be a source of depression.

By Renelle Pillay… (not verified) on 03 May 2014 #permalink

Of course a new father will be overwhelmed with the adjustment to new responsibilities and social expectations he is required to meet. I do not think, however, that the fathers depression should intervene with the child's overall mental well-being. The father should acknowledge his feelings or fears and should seek external help so that, as the study suggests, the result is a healthier improvement in the family. However, I suggest that the father should be counseled before the birth of the child so not only is the father ready to adjust to the new lifestyle, but he is able to understand the mother and assist her in caring for the child.
It is understandable that most men will not easily share their fears with strangers or friends a like, but, in order to overcome this challenge, direct help from a counselor is not necessarily needed. I think that if a father simply reads challenges or diaries of new fathers, this will have an extreme positive effect on the father. Blogs such as and may help a father cope with his challenges.
I was initially shocked to find that the probability of depression differs according to race, however with more research conducted on my behalf, I have found that indeed Hispanic and Black fathers are more likely to have signs of depression. You can read more on the Huffington Post :…

By Sumaya Atia (not verified) on 04 May 2014 #permalink

As mentioned, the saddest thing for me is the fact that companies are now using Breast Cancer Awareness to their own benefit rather than staying true to the real aim of improving people's knowledge and awareness of this terrible disease! It has totally turned into a marketing scheme and lots of money is being used and made for the wrong reasons! When are we going to see some results?? Where is all our money going?? There is no more time for increasing awareness, it is time to take action!

By Berthold u14050537 (not verified) on 04 May 2014 #permalink

Come to think of it, it is absolutely true. A family naturally looks at the father for strength and comfort. If he himself is depressed, it must have an enormous effect on the whole household. I think soon to be dads must realize this danger and be ready to seek help if needed.

People often forget that the father is als majorly involved in bringing a new child into the world, the world mainly focus on the mother. We so often hear of mothers who suffer fro depression after birth, that to hear of fathers suffering as well is quite a shock. The study brought some really interesting information to light and I think it is a very important thing for people to be aware of.

By Yolanda botha … (not verified) on 04 May 2014 #permalink

The role of a father in a child's life is unmeasureable big.If a father experience depression it will have a direct effect on a child's life.A father is there to comfort his child to let him know where he belongs and where he comes from and also where to he is heading in life.It is not suprising that a father experience depression ,together with his child there comes a very big financial responsibility to care for this child and for his family to be someone they can look up to.I think that society must be more aware of this and that we must help and encourage young fathers in our enviroment as soons as we can identify this problem.

By Madele' (14088322) (not verified) on 05 May 2014 #permalink