Depressed Fathers Put Their Children at Risk

A study published in last month’s issue of Pediatrics found that children with depressed fathers were more likely to display emotional and behavioral problems. The study, which involved 22,000 children from two-parent homes, discovered that if the mother was  depressed then the child was 19% more likely to have issues; for fathers, the increase was 11%, and if both parents suffered, then the number shot to 25%.

Even though the risk with depressed mothers was higher, according to the researchers, the significance regarding fathers was that there has been little focus on their depression’s impact. Because mothers are the parent who a child is the most exposed to, studies have tended to be centered on them.

Either way, this is huge said researcher Dr. Michael Weitzman, a professor of pediatrics at New York University Langone Medical Center. “Depressed parents parent differently,” he added.

“How people parent influences every aspect of child development,” he said, pointing out too that, “if a parent is depressed, the normal things that might excite him or her can be an irritant.”

Dr. Neal Davis, a pediatrician at Inter-Mountain Healthcare in Murray, Utah, agreed with this pointing out that depressed parents are less likely to parent in positive ways like reading to their children and are instead more prone to punish them.

The problem with men, however, is that they tend to ignore the symptoms of male depression either on purpose or unknowingly, and as a result it goes untreated.  In recent years, though, male depression, to include male post-partum depression has gained more attention.

I can’t say for sure if this increased focus on male mental health has any correlation to the “mancession” and/or the interest today’s more involved fathers, but it would make sense. In researching the history of fatherhood, it wasn’t surprising to see how depression among men during the Great Depression was a major factor in shaping the future image of fatherhood, and with no positive outlets for fathers to turn to, families bore the brunt of dad’s frustration, anger, and self-destructive behaviors like alcoholism.

On an even more personal level, this is something I understand all too well. Seven years ago I was diagnosed with chronic depression, which required daily medication. Three years later I was laid off.  Other than a chapter in my book discussing my struggle with depression is something I don’t talk much about.

This reticence on my part probably has something to do with the stigmas associated with depression and being a man. Despite the increased attention, I feel that, beyond certain circles, male depression is a condition many people still associate with the decidedly unmanly trait, weakness. I will say, though, that overcoming it takes a lot of strength and determination. Finally breaking down and seeking help was the best thing I did for both me and my family. This study only confirms it.

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Ron Mattocks is a father of five (3 sons, 2 stepdaughters) and author of the book, Sugar Milk: What One Dad Drinks When He Can’t Afford Vodka. He blogs at Clark Kent’s Lunchbox, and lives in Houston with his wife, Ashley, who eternally mocks his fervor for Coldplay.

Photo Credit: WikiCommons (Hendrike)


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