Approximately one-fifth of all fathers and over one third of all mothers experience an episode of depression within the first 12 years of their child being born, with the first year having the highest risk, says a British study of 86,957 families published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, a JAMA/Archives publication. The authors say appropriate detection methods are needed to identify depression among both parents, fathers as well as mothers, and that doctors and other health care professionals should be aware of the depression risk factors in early parenthood.

The authors, who were supported by UK Medical Research Council, as background information in the article, wrote:

Depression in parents is associated with adverse behavioral, developmental and cognitive outcomes in their children. While the maternal depression and child outcome literature is well established, there are fewer studies on paternal depression. There is evidence that paternal depression is not uncommon, with rates higher than those in the general adult male population; however, a wide range of prevalence rates for paternal depression have been reported.

Shreya Davé, Ph.D., M.Sc., B.Sc., Medical Research Council, London, England, and team looked at occurrence, trends and correlates of parental depression in 86,957 families seen in British primary care (general practice) facilities during the period 1993-2007. They identified parents of both sexes with depression using diagnostic codes and pharmacy records.
br> Overall, during the child’s age of 0 to 12 years, the investigators found:

  • 19,286 mothers had 23,176 episodes of depression
  • 8,012 fathers had 9,683 episodes of depression
  • A depression rate of 7.53 per 100 mothers per year
  • A depression rate of 2.69 per 100 fathers per year
  • Highest rates were detected during the first year of a child’s life, when 13.93 per 100 mothers and 3.56 per 100 fathers experienced depression.

The authors wrote:

These high rates of depression in the postpartum period are not surprising owing to the potential stress associated with the birth of a baby, e.g., poor parental sleep, the demands made on parents and the change in their responsibilities, and the pressure this could place on the couple’s relationship. The high rate of parental depression in the first year after delivery may also be partly due to a resumption of antidepressant use following a break during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

There was a clearly higher risk of depression among parents aged 15 to 24 years when the child was born, who had a history of depression, compared to parents whose child was born when they were 25 years or older.

The researchers wrote:

There is a well-established link between depression and social and economic deprivation both in the general population and among parents. This finding may reflect the stresses of poverty, unemployment, low employment grade and lower social support among people of lower socioeconomic status. Younger parents may be less prepared for parenthood with more unplanned pregnancies and may be less able to deal with the stresses of parenthood compared with older parents.

As a result of these findings, the researchers suggest there is a need for appropriate detection of depression among parents of both sexes. Doctors should know about the risk factors for parental depression, and assess people who have those characteristics.

Future research should also look into other possible factors linked to parental depression, including stressful life events, the couple’s relationship quality, as well as the separate and cumulative effects of paternal and maternal depression on the child’s health and development, the investigators wrote.

“Incidence of Maternal and Paternal Depression in Primary Care – A Cohort Study Using a Primary Care Database”
Shreya Davé, PhD, MSc, BSc; Irene Petersen, PhD, MSc; Lorraine Sherr, PhD, Dip Clin Psych; Irwin Nazareth, MBBS, PhD
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. Published online September 6, 2010. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2010.184

Written by Christian Nordqvist