Experts have long understood that a mother’s depression takes its toll on the health and wellbeing of her children. After a team from the NYU School of Medicine late last year found that a father’s depressive symptoms also are linked with increased mental health problems in kids, researchers decided to try to pinpoint factors that boost dads’ depression risk.
Looking at a nationally representative sample of 7,247 households in which fathers, mothers and children lived together, the team found that 6 percent of dads were suffering from depressive symptoms. And they found some common factors:
• When living with a child with special healthcare needs, fathers were 1.4 times as likely to be depressed as those who were not.
• When living in poverty, dads were 1.5 times as likely to be depressed.
• If they were in poor physical health, fathers were 3.31 times as likely to suffer from depression.
• Living with a mother with depressive symptoms, dads were 5.75 times as likely to also have them. Previous research found that one in four children living with both a mother and father with depression have mental health problems themselves.
• Being unemployed, however, was by far the strongest link. Fathers who were out of work were 6.5 times as likely to suffer from depression as dads with a job.
It’s this last finding that surprised researchers. “The fact that fathers’ unemployment is by far the strongest predictor of depressive symptoms is a brand new and unique finding with profound implications for the health and development of children in this time of extremely high rates of unemployment,” says lead investigator Michael Weitzman, M.D.
Weitzman adds that these factors could help identify fathers who need to be screened for depression, helping them and their families. The study was published in the Feb. 23 online edition of Maternal and Child Health Journal.