While many studies have looked at the impact of postpartum depression in mothers on their children, there is very limited data on postnatal depression in the fathers and the potential impact it may have on their children.

Researchers at the University of Oxford recently examined predictors of postnatal depression in the fathers and studied the link between depression in men in the postnatal period and later psychiatric disorders in their children. Data was collected from a cohort of 10,975 men at one or more points of time: prenatally, 8 weeks postnatal, 8 months postnatal, and 21 months postnatal using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS); anxiety was assessed with the Crown Crisp Experimental Index. The children were assessed at 6 years using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) and at 7 years using a structured psychiatric questionnaire, the Development and Well-Being Assessment (DAWBA).

This study suggests that paternal depression in the postnatal period was significantly associated with psychiatric disorders in their children 7 years later, and especially with oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder, even after adjusting for maternal depression in the postnatal period and father’s educational level. In addition, just as a history of severe depression and high levels of prenatal depression and anxiety in pregnant women are risk factors for postpartum depression in women, a history of severe depression and high prenatal symptoms scores for depression and anxiety were the strongest predictors of paternal postnatal depression. Lower educational level, having other children, and maternal prenatal depression were also found to be risk factors.

This is first population cohort study to demonstrate a clear association between depression in the postnatal period in fathers and later diagnoses in their children. It is increasingly evident that we must consider the mental health status of both parents during the pregnancy and after the delivery of their child.

Betty Wang, MD

Ramchandini PG, Stein A, O’Connor TG, Heron J, Murray L, Evans J. Depression in Men in the Postnatal Period and Later Child Psychopathology: A Population Cohort Study. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2008 Feb 27 [Epub ahead of print]