Effects of Early Parental Depression

There have been many studies regarding the adverse effects of maternal depression during prenatal and postpartum periods, and it is well-known that it is associated with the development of many problems in the child, including social, emotional, temperamental, and cognitive deficits.[1] These problems may extend throughout the childhood and into adolescence.1 Vice Chair in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Karen Dineen Wagner, M.D., Ph.D. discusses findings regarding critical periods for maternal and paternal depression in her article “Effects of Early Parental Depression.”1

A study conducted by Bagner and colleagues looked to determine the period of maternal depression that had the most negative impact on the child.[2] One-hundred and seventy-five mothers who met lifetime criteria for depressive disorder participated in the study. Many had experienced a major depressive episode before becoming pregnant, as well as during the first year postpartum.2 In order to assess for internalizing behavior problems in the child, the mothers completed the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) during the first year of their child’s life.2 Bagner and colleagues found that maternal depression during the first year of the child’s life was strongly associated with internalizing behavior problems.2 For mothers who did not experience postpartum depression, this association was not made.2 Therefore, Bagner and colleagues concluded that the first year of the child’s life is sensitive and maternal depression during this period may increase the chances of adverse outcomes for the child.2

According to Wagner, little attention has been given to issues concerning paternal depression; however, it may have a significant effect on the child.1 Davé and colleagues conducted a study regarding the incidence of paternal and maternal depression in primary care settings.[3] Their database included 86,957 families of mother, father, and child.3 They found that the rate of depression was the highest during the first year postpartum for both fathers and mothers, with rates of 3.6 and 13.9 per 100 people, respectively.3 Also, Davé and colleagues report that younger parents, parents with a history of depression, and parents from more deprived areas were at a higher risk of postpartum depression.3 Therefore, fathers should also be routinely screened for postpartum depression.

Paulson and Bazemore conducted 43 studies in which they assessed the rates of prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers.[4] They found that the rate of paternal depression was 10.4 percent during the first trimester and the first year postpartum; however, rates of depression were at its highest, 25.6 percent, during the period of three to six months after birth.4 Also, a correlation was found between maternal and paternal depression.4

According to Wagner, there has been evidence of an increased risk of suicide during the postpartum period in fathers with mood disorders.1 Quevedo and colleagues conducted a study of 650 fathers within 30 to 60 days postpartum.[5] While the prevalence of suicide risk for fathers in the general population is 4.8 percent during this time, that risk is 20 times more likely in fathers with a mood disorder.5

Finally, Davis and colleagues interviewed a total of 1,746 fathers of one-year-old children regarding parenting behaviors.[6] Seven percent of the fathers reported experiencing an episode of major depression during the past year.6 Results showed that fathers who experienced depression were more likely to spank their children compared with non-depressed fathers.6 Therefore, paternal depression leads to negative parenting behaviors.6

[1] Wagner, K.D. (2011, June 27). Effects of Early Parental Depression. Psychiatric Times. Retrieved from http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/mdd/content/article/10168/1890601

[2] Bagner DM, Pettit JW, Lewinsohn PM, Seeley JR. Effect of maternal depression on child behavior: a sensitive period? J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010;49:699-707.

[3] Davé S, Petersen I, Sherr L, Nazareth I. Incidence of maternal and paternal depression in primary care: a cohort study using a primary care database. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2010;164:1038-1044.

[4] Paulson JF, Bazemore SD. Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: a meta-analysis. JAMA. 2010;303:1961-1969.

[5] Quevedo L, da Silva RA, Coelho F, et al. Risk of suicide and mixed episode in men in the postpartum period. J Affect Disord. 2011 Jan 27.

[6] Davis RN, Davis MM, Freed GL, Clark SJ. Father’s depression related to positive and negative parent-ing behaviors with 1-year-old children. Pediatrics. March 14, 2011. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/peds.2010-1779v1.

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