Screening for depression advised for new fathers

March 25, 2011

New fathers as well as mothers experience depression, and it can adversely affect parenting, according to an observational study reported in Pediatrics.

New fathers as well as mothers experience depression, and it can adversely affect parenting, according to an observational study reported in Pediatrics.

Researchers used interview data from 1,746 fathers of 1-year-old children who participated in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to evaluate the associations between fathers’ depression and positive and negative parenting behaviors. The behaviors assessed were those typically discussed by pediatric providers at well-child visits, specifically, playing games, singing songs, reading stories to children 3 or more days a week, and spanking.

Overall, 7% of the fathers interviewed reported having a major depressive episode (as assessed by the World Health Organization Composite International Diagnostic Interview Short Form) in the past year. Eighty-two percent of all fathers and 77% of depressed fathers said that they had spoken to their child’s doctor in the previous year.

Depressed fathers were as likely as nondepressed fathers to play games and sing songs or nursery rhymes with their children. Those with depression, however, were less than half as likely to read to their children, and nearly 4 times more likely to report spanking them within the past month.

More frequent spanking is of particular concern, according to the researchers, because 1-year-old children are unlikely to understand the relationship between their behavior and subsequent punishment. Also, spanking is more likely to cause physical injury in such young children.

Since the majority of depressed as well as nondepressed fathers reported speaking to their child’s physician in the past year, well-child visits provide an opportunity to screen fathers for depression, discuss specific parenting behaviors, and refer them for treatment if appropriate, the researchers advise.

Davis RN, Davis MM, Freed GL, Clark SJ. Fathers’ depression related to positive and negative parenting behaviors with 1-year-old children. Pediatrics. 2011. Epub ahead of print.