Findings published in the journal Paediatrics suggest that fathers as well as mothers are at risk of developing depression after the birth of their first child – especially if they are in their mid-twenties.
The research – which involved a survey of more than 10,000 men with an average age of 25 – found that depression in fathers increased by 68% in the first five years after the birth.
Doctors are now calling for new fathers to join new mothers in screenings for post-natal depression. This is considered particularly crucial for ensuring the illness does not impact their children.
Professor Craig Garfield, a paediatrician at Northwestern University in Chicago, praised the results for providing a basis for more effective interventions and treatment.
He said: “It is not just new mums who need to be screened for depression, dads are at risk, too.
“Parental depression has a detrimental effect on kids, especially during those first key years of parent and infant attachment. We need to do a better job of helping young dads transition through that time period.”
Extensive research has already shown that depressed fathers are more likely to be stressed and neglectful of their children – implementing corporal punishment and failing to interact properly with them.
As a result, children with depressed fathers are considered to be at greater risk of having poor language and reading development, as well as more behaviour problems and conduct disorders.
Professor Garfield added: “We knew paternal depression existed and the detrimental effects it has on children, but we did not know where to focus our energy and our attention until this study.
“This is a wake-up call for anyone who knows a young man who has recently become a new father.”
It is estimated around 4 – 5% of new fathers suffer from post-natal depression, compared with 10% of women. Despite this prevalence, experts are in the dark about why it starts.