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Study: Younger dads at higher risk for depression

| Monday, April 14, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Becoming a dad can be emotionally tough for any guy, but especially for young, first-time fathers. A study finds that the first five years of parenthood — key attachment and bonding years for a child — may be the riskiest for young dads when it comes to developing depression.

Symptoms of depression increased on average by 68 percent over the first five years of fatherhood for men who were about 25 years old when they became fathers and lived with their children, according to the study published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

“There's been a significant body of literature describing the effect of mother's depression on child development, and the health care system has tried to rise to the challenge of identifying mothers with depression,” said Craig Garfield, an associate professor in pediatrics and medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the study. “Fathers have not been on the radar screen until recently. Now we know that ... right around the time of the birth is an important time to try and capture and screen those dads.”

Paternal depression affects 5 to 10 percent of fathers, Garfield said, while about 10 to 15 percent of new mothers will experience maternal depression.

Garfield's previous research showed depressed dads will use more corporal punishment, read less and interact less with their children, and are more likely to be stressed and neglect their children. Compared with the children of non-depressed dads, these children are at risk for having poor language and reading development, and more behavior problems and conduct disorders.

For the new study, researchers used data collected from 10,253 adolescent males enrolled in a national study examining social and behavioral health. Started in 1994, it followed them over nearly 20 years into adulthood. In 2004-05, 3,425 of the participants (33 percent) were fathers, ages 24 to 32. The majority of fathers (80 percent) lived with their children.

The new study “adds to a desperately needed research and policy agenda that deals with the mental health of fathers,” said Michael Weitzman, a professor of pediatrics and global health at the New York University School of Medicine. His previous research found that two of the biggest predictors of depression in fathers was living in a household with a depressed mother and having a child with emotional or behavioral problems.

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