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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Postnatal Depression

Q. I am writing a paper on the impact postnatal depression (in women) has or may have on fathers/husbands and children. I was wondering if you are aware of any good publications or case studies on this issue. The sites on the Internet that I've found so far tend to emphasize the "what" and "why" of PND and center upon women. There are social support groups for men, indicating an impact upon them, but in terms of concrete research, I've had a tough time finding some. Any help would be appreciated.

A. It is hard to find information on this topic, but there are a few studies I can point out. Matthey et al (J Affect Disord 2000; 6:75-85) looked at 157 couples pre-natally, then at 6, 12, and 52 weeks postnatally. At most time points, pre-natal mood and partner relationship were predictors of post-natal mood for both mothers and fathers. Early on, the father's mood was also related to his relationship with either his mother or father.

Another study by Areias et al (Br J Psychiatry 1996; 169:36-41) looked at correlates of paternal and maternal depression after the birth of a first child. They found that post-natal depression in fathers was associated with a history of depression in themselves, and with the presence of depression in their wives during pregnancy and soon after delivery. (Also see the companion piece by these authors in the same issue).

A study by Deater-Deckard et al (Am J Psychiatry 1998; 155:818-23) estimated rates of depression during pregnancy and 8 weeks following the birth of a child in a large representative community sample of fathers in different family structures. The study found that men living in stepfamilies had-significantly higher levels of depressive symptoms before and after the birth than did men in more traditional families. The effect of stepfamily status on depression was mediated by education, life events, social support, social network, and level of aggression in the partnership.

Clearly, the relationship between maternal post-natal depression and a similar reaction in the father is quite complex. You might also take a look at the book "Treating Postnatal Depression : A Psychological Approach for Health Care Practitioners", by Jeannette Milgrom et al. This contains some material on husband-wife relationships.

Other Resources:

June 2001

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