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University of Iowa News Release

 

Nov. 3, 2006

Fathers Also Experience Postpartum Depression

Mothers are not the only parent experiencing postpartum depression. Fathers also can have difficulty adjusting emotionally in the weeks and months following the birth of a child.

A number of research studies in recent years suggest men can experience postpartum depression. One study, published in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics, found that among 5,000 American couples who recently had a baby, as many as 10 percent of the fathers had significant levels of depression. 

"We need to pay better attention to dads postpartum," said Robin Cook Kopelman, M.D. assistant professor in the University of Iowa Department of Psychiatry. "Paternal depression, like maternal depression, may have a negative impact on the marital relationship as well as on parenting and can lead to subsequent behavioral problems in children."

Kopelman explored postpartum depression in men in conjunction with a larger UI study about women's postpartum treatments. The study, Clinician Managed Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Postpartum Depression, is being led by UI researchers Scott Stuart, M.D., professor of psychiatry, and Michael O'Hara, Ph.D., professor of psychology.

Kopelman's research indicated that a similar percentage of fathers from the UI study reported depressive symptoms after having a baby, which could correspond to an actual diagnosis of postpartum depression.

Signs of postpartum depression can include low mood, irritability, not enjoying activities one usually enjoys, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, thoughts of suicide or self-harm, and sleep difficulties not related to the infant.

If left untreated, postpartum depression may also negatively affect a child's cognitive development and ability to form strong parental attachments. In addition, Kopelman said postpartum depression is associated with impaired psychosocial functioning in the parent.

Kopelman noted that doctors are increasingly screening new mothers for postpartum depression in primary care and pediatric settings. Men also should be screened, she added.

"Post partum is a critical time for parents to get care that could improve their marriage, relationships with their children and their ability to parent," Kopelman said. "Fathers play an extremely important role in helping with their babies, and we need to offer them more support in clinical settings. We need to create a comfortable atmosphere where fathers can talk about how they are doing psychologically and emotionally."

Kopelman added that postpartum depression should not be seen solely a maternal or paternal problem, but considered a family issue.

"People need to be aware that postpartum depression is a serious public health problem and that it is a burden for individual families," Kopelman said. "We need to create and develop public health programs and improve the accessibility of mental health services, especially for fathers."

Men typically have been excluded from concern about postpartum depression, she suggested, because people assume it is caused by hormone changes - since depression itself is more common in women - and because of women's historical role in society.

"People do not think of it as a men's issue because, historically, women have been primarily responsible for child rearing. In addition, depression is two to three times more common in women than men," Kopelman said. "Although hormones play a part in postpartum depression, they are not the entire picture."

Kopelman urges people concerned about experiencing postpartum depression to contact their community or primary health care providers. For more information about postpartum depression please visit www.postpartum.net.

For information on UI research on postpartum depression, contact the Iowa Depression and Clinical Research Center at 319-335-0307 or visit their Web site at http://www.psychology.uiowa.edu/labs/idcrc/.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5139 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: David Pedersen, 319-335-8032, david-pedersen@uiowa.edu. Writer: Krystal Loewe.