Auckland: Depression symptoms among men before and after the birth of their children were identified by recent research from the University of Auckland’s Centre for Longitudinal Research – He Ara Ki Mua.
The study found that expectant fathers were at risk if they felt
stressed or were in poor health. Elevated depression symptoms following
their child’s birth were linked to social and relationship problems.
The study, published today in the Journal of the American Medical
Association Psychiatry investigated depression symptoms in more than
3,500 New Zealand men during the third trimester of their partner’s
pregnancy and again nine months after their child’s birth.
Study author, Dr Lisa Underwood from the University of Auckland, says
that while maternal antenatal and postnatal depression are recognised
and known to be associated with poor outcomes for women and children,
there has been little done to identify perinatal depression symptoms in
“As in many other countries, New Zealand women are assessed for
postnatal depression following childbirth,” says Dr Underwood. “There is
no routine screening of women during pregnancy and none for fathers
before or after the birth of their children, since they are not usually
engaged in routine perinatal care.
“In the present study of fathers, self-reported poor health and
self-perceived stress during the pregnancy were consistently linked to
paternal depression during the pregnancy,” she says.
“Additional risks only associated with paternal postnatal depression
included a history of depression, unemployment, relationship status and
family environments during the postnatal period. Of these, the strongest
predictor of paternal depression was no longer being in a relationship
with the child’s mother,” says Dr Underwood.
“Increasingly, we are becoming aware of the influence that fathers
have on their children’s psychosocial and cognitive development. Given
the potential for paternal depression to have direct and indirect
effects on children, it is important that we recognise and treat
symptoms among fathers early.
“Arguably, the first step in doing this is to raise awareness about
factors that lead to increased risks among fathers themselves.”
Combined with two recent papers reporting on New Zealand mothers’
antenatal and postnatal depression, this study provides a view of the
separate and common risk factors for depression in parents which, if
detected early and appropriately managed could limit the impact on their
All studies drew on interviews with families involved in the
contemporary, longitudinal study Growing Up in New Zealand, which is
tracking the development of more than 6000 children born in 2009 and
“The Growing Up in New Zealand cohort gives us a unique context in
which to identify risk factors for parental depression symptoms around
the time of birth and follow long term effects on children’s health and
wellbeing,” says Dr Underwood.
“It provides policy makers with evidence that is relevant to New
Zealand families of today and can be used to better target those who may
benefit from extra support to avoid downstream problems.”
During the perinatal period (from the third trimester of pregnancy to
nine months after birth), 217 (6.2 percent) of the men in the study
experienced symptoms of depression compared with 3306 who did not have
elevated depression symptoms.
Around one in 25 men reported symptoms of postnatal depression while antenatal depression only affected about one in 50.
By comparison, more mothers suffered depression symptoms before than after the birth of their children.
One in six of the mothers interviewed in the Growing Up in New
Zealand study cohort reported significant depressive symptoms at either
the antenatal interview or when their children were nine months old.
One in eight experienced antenatal depression symptoms with one in 12
experiencing symptoms postnatally, although these were not always the
One in four women who had antenatal depression also experienced
postnatal depression and more than one in three with postnatal
depression had experienced antenatal depression.
“In our studies focusing on mothers, increased risks of experiencing
depressive symptoms were associated with Pacific or Asian ethnicity,
stress, anxiety, a previous history of doctor diagnosed depression and
difficult relationships and family environments,” says Dr Underwood.
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