New fathers should look out for depression

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Young first-time fathers should be alert to signs of depression, just like their female counterparts should, according to new research.

A study of 10,623 young males, 3,425 of whom became fathers for the first time over the 23-year study period, was published online April 2014 in the journal Pediatrics. The study found that symptoms of depression for first-time fathers who had a median age of 25 and lived with their children increased by 68 percent on average during the first 5 years of fatherhood. Fathers who didn’t live with their children showed no similar pattern but tended to be more depressed overall than were resident fathers, the study found. Dr. Craig Garfield, who is the study’s lead author, says paternal depression affects up to 10 percent of U.S. fathers.

Experts say the effects of paternal depression on a child can be both emotional and physical. Garfield says depressed fathers are less likely to engage in parental activities, such as reading bedtime stories, and are more likely to resort to using corporal punishment. Dr. Shastri Swaminathan of Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center says nonresident depressed fathers are more likely to yell when they discipline their children.

Swaminathan says symptoms of depression for new fathers include a lack of energy and sleep, fits of explosive anger and crying spells. In addition to professional treatment from a psychologist, exercise 3 days per week can help fathers to manage their depression, Swaminathan says. Dr. Lauren Napolitano of Bryn Mawr Hospital says nonresident fathers should keep regular visitation schedules with their children to help to ease feelings of depression.