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Postpartum Depression Can Strike New Dads

1 in 10 men is affected, and a depressed partner can raise the risk, study finds

TUESDAY, May 18 (HealthDay News) -- Although many people know that new moms are at increased risk of depression following the birth of a child, new research suggests that about 10 percent of new dads experience the "baby blues," too.

What's more, the researchers found that if the mother experiences postpartum depression, the father is more apt to be depressed also, which puts the baby at a significantly greater risk of developing emotional, behavioral and developmental problems later on, according to the study.

"Pre- and postnatal depression in men is real. The overall rate of depression in fathers was 10.4 percent in our analysis, about twice what we would expect in the general population of men," said the study's lead author, James Paulson, an associate professor and clinical psychologist at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk.

Results of the study are published in the May 19 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Postpartum depression affects between 10 percent and 30 percent of new mothers, according to background information in the study. What's been less well-studied, according to the authors, is the risk of male depression before and after the birth of a child, as well as the potential consequences to the child.

To get a better handle on the incidence of paternal postnatal depression, Paulson and his co-author, Sharnail Bazemore, reviewed data from 43 studies including more than 28,000 men.

Overall, 10.4 percent of men experienced depression either in the pre- or postnatal period. The normal rate of depression for men in the general population is just under 5 percent, according to Paulson.

Rates of depression in men were highest when the baby was between 3 to 6 months old, reaching about 25 percent during this time period, according to the study.

The researchers also found an association between the risk of maternal and paternal depression. If one parent was depressed, the other was more likely to experience depression.

"This study brings attention to a very important issue that is sometimes overlooked," said Shona Vas, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago Medical Center. "As joyous an occasion as the birth of a new baby is, it's a tremendous transition, and transitions are stressful. And, it's a change that comes with significant impact on your day-to-day functioning, affecting sleep, taking care of yourself, exercising and more."

According to Paulson and Vas, signs of paternal depression include a sad or depressed mood, a loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed, fatigue, sleep problems, a loss of appetite, feelings of hopelessness and irritability. The problem is, many of these symptoms may be dismissed because people assume that they're due to the new baby, such as sleep problems or changing activities.

Both Paulson and Vas said that education prior to the birth of the child could be very helpful. Just letting parents know that they're at higher risk of depression, what they need to look for and what they can do about it, could help.

"Provide education ahead of time, giving the couple time to talk about options and solutions," said Vas. "Figure out how you'll be able to take time for yourself, while still being supportive. Negotiate as a couple ahead of time how you'll each take time for yourself," she suggested.

If you recognize any of the signs of depression in yourself or a loved one, a primary care doctor is a good place to start seeking treatment, according to the experts.

However, "men are extraordinarily less likely to seek mental health services [than women]," Paulson noted. "If we can get a man in to see his family doctor or even a mental health provider, that's a really major step."

In the meantime, men should know that paternal depression is "something that can and should be treated," he said.

"Even if you don't want to seek services for depression for yourself, seek services because your depression is likely to affect your kids," Paulson explained. "Depression occurs in families; it's not just affecting dad. Depression can't be looked at in isolation. When parents are depressed, children may have a higher risk of behavioral issues, and with things such as learning language or learning to read."

More information

Read more about depression in men from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

SOURCES: James Paulson, Ph.D., associate professor and clinical psychologist, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, Va.; Shona Vas, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and clinical psychologist, University of Chicago Medical Center, Chicago; May 19, 2010, Journal of the American Medical Association

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