New Dads as Likely to Suffer From Depression as Moms, Study Suggests

Norra MacReady

July 23, 2018

New fathers may be as likely as new mothers to suffer from postpartum depression, new data suggest. The authors recommend that both parents be routinely screened for depression during well-child exams.

Of the fathers screened in a large, population-based cohort, 4.4% had a positive result for depression, which is similar to the percentage of mothers who screened positive, at 5.0%.

"The proportion of fathers who screened positive for depression in our cohort coincides with a previous report. Pediatric clinics are thus promising settings in which to address depression in both parents as part of a family-centered approach to care," write Erika R. Cheng, PhD, MPA, and coauthors in an article published online today in JAMA Pediatrics.

As with maternal depression, paternal depression may have a negative effect on a child's development and behavior, "making it a worthy target of identification and intervention efforts," write Cheng, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Children's Health Services Research at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, and colleagues.

Previous research, for example, has shown that children of depressed fathers have an increased risk for depressive symptoms in adolescence, with a magnitude similar to that seen among children of depressed mothers.

For the current study, the researchers used data from the Child Health Improvement Through Computer Automation system, which operates in 5 community healthcare centers in Indianapolis and administers a tablet-based prescreening form for age-appropriate pediatric conditions. The questionnaire also includes a modified, 3-item version of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression scale, which is administered to parents every 90 days. The authors considered endorsement of any 1 item on the scale evidence of depression.

They analyzed Child Health Improvement Through Computer Automation data from parents of children aged 15 months or younger who completed the PFS between August 1, 2016, and December 31. During that time, the PFS was modified to identify who was attending the well-child visit and completing the form.

Of 9572 clinic visits overall, fathers attended 2946 (30.8%) visits and answered the prescreening form at 806 (8.4%). Among those respondents, 36 (4.4%) screened positive for depression, as did 273 mothers (5.0%). Overall, of parents who screened positive for depression, fathers made up 11.7%.

Despite evidence that maternal depression can be managed within pediatric primary care, most pediatric residents receive no training in the diagnosis or management of adult mental health problems, the authors note.

The new data underscore "opportunities to educate physicians about the importance of depression in both parents and to develop strategies to integrate screening tools into routine care," they write.

Study limitations include possible underestimation of paternal depression, because only one parent completes the prescreening form at any given visit, and that the study was confined to a publicly insured population, which may not be generalizable to a broader population.

Two of the study authors are coinventors of the Child Health Improvement Through Computer Automation system, and one is co-owner of the company that licenses the software used in the system. The other authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

JAMA Pediatrics. Published online July 23, 2018. Extract

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