Expert Commentary

Fathers’ depression and negative parenting behaviors

2011 study from the University of Michigan published in the journal Pediatrics on the link between paternal depression and care for children.

In 2002 the Institute of Medicine estimated that 4.3% of men with a child under 18 years old had suffered a paternity-related depressive disorder, while other studies have placed the probability of such depression within the first year of a child’s life as high as 10.4%.

A 2011 study from the University of Michigan published in the journal Pediatrics, “Fathers’ Depression Related to Positive and Negative Parenting Behaviors With 1-Year-Old Children,” used interviews with more than 1,700 fathers from across 16 cities to explore the associations between paternal depression and negative parenting behaviors.

The study’s findings include:

  • Nationally, 7% of fathers living with a 1-year-old child reported a major depressive episode within the first year of that child’s life.
  • Depressed fathers were 3.9 times more likely to report spanking their 1-year old than fathers not suffering a depressive disorder. (41% of depressed fathers reported spanking their children, compared with only 13% of non-depressed.)
  • Depression among fathers was also associated with a 50% decreased likelihood of reading to their 1-year-old child consistently (reading three days a week or more.)

The results from this study point to the potential value of pediatricians screening both mothers and fathers for depression in the early years of a child’s development. Furthermore, the study found that 77% of depressed fathers had interacted with their child’s doctor at least once in the child’s first year of life, suggesting that there are ample screening opportunities.

Tags: children, mental health, parenting

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