This just in… A British longitudinal study called Children of the 90s found that the children of fathers with postnatal depression were more likely to have behavioral and psychological problems. The University of Bristol study is following 14,000 children for fifteen years (and will continue the research into old age). The scientists are studying multiple areas of interest, including the focus on fathers with postnatal depression.
I don’t know how or why they chose this area to focus on. Very few fathers in the sample, or in general, have depression problems after the birth of their children. The statistics vary, but there are probably no more than 3%-10% of fathers who claim to be depressed after their child’s birth. Research is usually done on postpartum depression in mothers because there are more instances of depression in women than men. So, this is a pleasant surprise, and may be worthy of note for any father who is feeling down in the dumps when hanging out with his newborn.
The study showed that postnatal depression in men could be twice as likely linked to future behavioral problems in their children compared to children of parents without depression. This is data that really can’t be ignored, but I have reservations about the conclusions that some are taking from the study.
For instance, the implication seems to be that the depressed fathers are somehow causing the children to have the behavioral problems. One way to interpret the data is that fathers of babys with colic are more likely to be depressed, and that babies with colic are more likely to have behavior problems later in life. I would be interested to see if colic was a factor or not. Another interpretation could be that the fathers are depressed because they are unhappy in their marriage, and that a poor parental unit has influenced the behavior problems. And the obvious interpretation would be a genetic connection. I’m not sure if the scientists are too concerned with these interpretations yet; perhaps they are only looking at the numbers and are encouraging others to analyze them.
I’m also concerned that this connection between depression in new fathers and their child’s behavioral problems might be overblown. We are looking at behavior problems in 6% of the children without depressed dads compared to 12% with depressed dads. The numbers are doubled, for sure, but we are still left with a small percentage of these children being affected. That is to say, it would be irresponsible to imply that most dads with postnatal depression have psychologically problematic children.
My final thought on this topic is whether the fathers voluntarily claimed depression or whether they were diagnosed by a psychologist. On that same note, were the children diagnosed by a psychologist, and what exactly were considered behavior problems (ADHD, depression, and…). I’m just curious more than anything.
I’ve sent some questions to Paul Ramchandani, who headed this study. Hopefully, he will reply, so that my curiousity will be satisfied.