Postpartum Depression Not Limited to New Moms
> 5/8/2008 12:59:24 PM

Several concurrent studies defy popular opinion to reveal that the crippling influence of postpartum depression (PPD) can hit new dads and young kids just as hard as mothers. In fact, rates of depression recorded in the period after the birth of a child (particularly the first) are nearly as high for men as they are for women. Perhaps most tragically, the children themselves are affected in ways that can dramatically alter their development.

Postpartum depression, a frequently severe condition that must be distinguished from the standard physical and emotional fatigue common to new parents, can begin within 2 to 3 weeks of birth and last a full year or longer. As recent studies prove, it's surprisingly common among men: the fathers of young children were twice as likely as control subjects to qualify for clinical depression diagnoses. A recent study by Virginia's Center for Pediatric Research surveyed more than 5,000 two-parent families whose children were approximately 9 months old, finding that levels of depression in new fathers ran as high as 10% compared to 3-5% in the general population. The female version of this divide wasn't as great - 14% of new moms versus 7-10% of the public. While experts often point to stereotypical "hormonal changes" as the major cause of PPD in women, the culprit is supposedly more psychological for men. And its symptoms are different as well. As in other forms of depression, men do not sink into states of desparation as often as they grow distant and preoccupied, busying themselves with alcohol, time-consuming hobbies and other distractions.

These trends aren't entirely surprising. For all the joys that a child can bring, the dramatic changes concurrent with new parenthood also serve to disrupt the emotional balance of many fathers' lives. Insomnia, anxiety, a changing relationship with one's spouse or partner and, most of all, a radical shift in lifestyles and priorities experienced by most fathers can lead to a prolonged state of alternating panic and melancholy sufficient to qualify for PPD diagnosis. Past research has revealed the new-dad depression phenomenon, but recent studies are among the first to measure the effect of that trend on the children themselves. One study of nearly 4,500 new dads revealed that those affected by PPD spent less time playing with and reading to their children, who subsequently had smaller vocabularies at the age of 2 even after researchers controlled results to account for socioeconomic status and educational factors. Another study linked fatherly PPD with behavioral problems occurring later in a child's life. 7-year-old children whose fathers had been depressed in their infancy were nearly twice as likely to have problems like ADHD, anxiety disorders and defiant personality behavior issues.

Many men remain reluctant to seek help even as symptoms grow more severe and their conditions become increasingly obvious. The stereotypical image of the father-protector neglecting his own well-being to support his wife and child unfortunately retains a great deal of influnce, and many affected men can't appreciate the cost that their kids and spouses may have to pay for an inattention to their needs. This is not to say that all men dealing with the anxieties of a new child should rush to the doctor every time they feel less than 100%. But it makes no sense for affected fathers to "tough it out" and deny their conditions when brief courses of therapy and/or medication could make a huge difference. All fathers hopefully share a sense of devotion to offspring, and these studies make clear the fact that delaying treatment will not serve their children well.

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