Paternal Depression leads to problems with children
Why do we tend to overlook the mental health needs of new parents particularly the father’s needs? The emotional swings that accompany the mother’s experience after the birth of a child can often eclipse a vulnerable time for the father. Fathers are more involved than ever in caring and providing for newborns and involved with child rearing. Given the norm of two working parents and the stresses of parenthood, men often experience their first bout of depression after the birth of a child.
Studies of parent-child interactions often focus on maternal care giving, but a recent study published online in the Journal, Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, looked at the impact of paternal depression on infant development and found that it had the same impact as maternal depression. Depression impacts behaviors that are vital to an infant’s sense of safety and security, and parent’s emotions affect children’s behavior.
Parenting is difficult and exciting, but staying tuned into the needs and rhythms of infants is challenging. There are plenty of opportunities to connect to an infant through eye contact, talk, and play. These behaviors help develop the parent-infant relationship so that the child internalizes a sense of safety and security. But when a parent is depressed, their interest in engaging with children can fall off. This can have long term consequences and spell trouble for the child when they are a toddler.
It is easy to confuse the behaviors of depression with disinterest or lack of motivation. When depression hits, it often is accompanied by a decrease in energy and an increase in negativity. Men and women in parenting roles often feel guilty about the lack of energy and distance themselves more from their child. This only perpetuates the infant’s discomfort and protest behavior which if left unnoticed can develop into a very disturbing dynamic. Fast forward to the active and challenging period of raising a toddler, and the study highlights behavioral difficulties from ages 3 and beyond such as hitting, and lying.
Fortunately, if a depressed parent seeks treatment or support, the family gets the help necessary that may protect the child from the negative aspects of depression. Early detection of depression is extremely important and there are many resources available to help fathers and partners with this difficult and treatable mental health issue.
If you are a new father concerned about your mood’s impact on you, your partner, and your child here are a few things you can do right away:
- Attend the infant checkups with the pediatrician. That will give the doctor an opportunity to ask how you are. Be honest if you aren’t doing so well. This will free you from the guilt of not taking responsibility for taking care of yourself and your family.
- Get support. Having extended family is a wonderful gift, but if you are far from family or estranged from family, find a group in your area that provides support groups for new parents. Hearing how others are dealing with mood changes and seeing others get help is an important first step. Seek professional help from a therapist.
- Remain curious about your infant. Curiosity opens the mind to the world and the experience of others. Take time to interact with your child even if you feel you have nothing to give.
- Smile at your child. This helps you feel a little bit happier.
Northwestern University. “Parents’ depression can lead to toddlers in trouble.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 March 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150312173820.htm>