Paternal depression during a child’s first year can have a negative impact on the child’s behaviour and development, according to research published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
The research adds to emerging evidence that it is not just mothers’ mental health that affects children’s development — dads’ happiness matters too.
Dr Richard Fletcher, from the Family Action Centre at the University of Newcastle, and coauthors found that infants with depressed fathers were more likely to have emotional and behavioural problems at age 4–5 years than those with happier fathers.
“Self-reported depression in fathers during the first year of a child’s life can have a detrimental impact on their child’s behaviour and social and emotional development at the point of school entry.”
Some of the associations were gender specific. For example, early paternal depression was more strongly associated with hyperactivity in boys, and emotional problems in girls.
These associations held irrespective of maternal depression, socioeconomic status and later paternal depression.
“Early intervention to identify and address the mental health needs of fathers is required for the benefit of fathers, children and families,” said Dr Fletcher.
The large, prospective study was based on a representative sample of 2620 Australian families using data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.