Difficulties with depression for new parents are usually focused on moms, but depression can also affect fathers — and make them more likely to spank children as young as 1 year old.
About 40 percent of depressed fathers in a survey said they’d spanked kids that age, versus just 13 percent of fathers who weren’t depressed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and many child development experts warn against spanking children of any age.
The researchers said spanking is especially troubling in children who are only 1, because they could get injured and they “are unlikely to understand the connection between their behavior and subsequent punishment.”
In addition, four out of five dads had recently visited a pediatrician for their child’s routine visit — an opportunity to get help for themselves that was missed.
The authors analyzed data on 1,746 fathers from a nationally representative survey in 16 large U.S. cities, conducted in 1999-2000. Lead author Dr. Neal Davis said that was the most recent comprehensive data on the subject, and he believes it is relevant today. Depression among fathers is strongly tied to unemployment rates, which are much higher now than a decade ago, he said.
The men were questioned about depression symptoms, spanking and interactions with their 1-year-olds, but weren’t asked why they spanked or whether it resulted in physical harm.
Overall, 7 percent of dads had experienced recent major depression.
Some likely had a history of depression, but in others it was probably tied to their children’s birth, similar to postpartum depression in women, Davis said. A pediatrician now, Davis did the research while at the University of Michigan.
Postpartum depression is more common in women; by some estimates as many as 25 percent develop it shortly after childbirth. Severe cases sometimes include psychotic symptoms and have been linked with suicide and with deaths in children including several high-profile drownings.
Less is known about depression in new dads and the study points to a problem that has been under-recognized, said Dr. Craig Garfield, an assistant pediatrics professor at Northwestern University and co-author of a Pediatrics editorial.
With fathers increasingly spending time on child care, including taking their kids to routine doctor visits, it’s important for pediatricians to pay attention to dads’ mental health, Garfield said. Davis said his office is working on screening dads for depression and offering referrals to mental health services, a practice he and his co-authors recommend for all pediatricians.
Overall, 15 percent of fathers had recently spanked their children. Besides being more likely to spank, depressed dads were less likely to read to their kids – an activity the researchers called part of positive parenting. About equal numbers of depressed and non-depressed dads reported other positive interactions, such as playing games with their kids. The researchers said reading requires more focus that may be difficult when depressed.
The study was released online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics