Postpartum Depression: It’s Not Just for Moms Anymore!
Postpartum, the period of time following childbirth, after delivery, as Merriam-Webster defines it, in today’s society automatically conjures up images of mothers and depression.
For many years the psychological and medical worlds focused on mothers who had an extremely difficult time after the birth of their newborn babies. Researchers, pharmaceutical companies, clinicians, physicians, decades of combined work, and millions of dollars were devoted to the mental health problem that impacts 9-16% of mothers each year (apa.org). Postpartum depression is a prolonged emotional disturbance affecting one’s ability to adequately function, let alone have to constantly care for an infant. Some symptoms include a loss of pleasure or interest in doing things normally enjoyed, withdrawal, anxiety, sleep problems, and ideation of hurting oneself or child.
Much of the psychological research has focused on how maternal depression influences the emotional world of her infant. Such an experience can impact and remain throughout a lifetime. Children of depressed mothers have been found to have a greater likelihood of being insecurely attached, anxious, withdrawn, inconsolable, and have behavioral, emotional, cognitive, and social problems (Tronick & Reck, 2009; Beebe, et al., 2010). With these substantial and significant findings, focus on maternal postpartum depression increased at places such as checkups with pediatricians, mental health services at initial assessments, and psychological assessments and evaluations for children and teens. Maternal postpartum depression is screened as attempts formedical and mental health professionals to encourage an increase in mothers with postpartum depression to seek psychotherapeutic treatment to not only help the mother feel better, but to also change the child’s emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and social trajectories for the better.
In a recent study following parents and children over several years, Longitudinal Contribution of Maternal and Paternal Depression to Toddler Behaviors: Interparental Conflict and Later Depression as Mediators, unequivocally reveals that depression in father’s during the first year places toddler’s at just as much risk as depression in mother’s (Sheehan, et al., 2015). Findings indicate that depressed emotions in fathers can result in hitting, lying, anxiety, and sadness. As a psychologist working with children, teenagers, men, and women, this study is a reminder for me, as it should be for all mental health and medical professionals, to ask about and screen for paternal depression during the child’s first year of life. This article is also a helpful reminder for many adults, moms and dads, your friends and loved ones, of the importance of seeking help for depression, especially if it is postpartum.
Tronick, E. and Reck, C. Infants of Depressed Mothers. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 2009, 147-156.