The University of Illinois Chicago conducted a pilot study suggesting that fathers can experience postpartum depression and should be screened for it. This is crucial given the interconnected impact of both parents’ physical and mental well-being, potentially offering a valuable but underutilized tool to address the ongoing maternal health crisis in the nation.
With mothers’ consent, researchers interviewed and screened 24 fathers, revealing that 30% screened positive for postpartum depression using the same assessment commonly used for mothers. Dr. Sam Wainwright, the lead author, emphasized the significance of checking in on new fathers.
“Many fathers are grappling with stress, fear, and the challenge of juggling work, parenting, and partnership responsibilities,” he pointed out. “Men often struggle, but they’re seldom asked about it.”
Conversations about new fathers’ mental health become even more vital when considering its potential impact on their partners’ well-being.
“Wainwright, an assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics, noted, “A woman who is at risk for postpartum depression is much more likely to experience it if she has a partner who is also struggling.”
While previous studies estimated that 8% to 13% of new fathers experience postpartum depression, Wainwright suspects the rate in this study was higher due to the fact that nearly 90% of the participants belonged to racial or ethnic groups facing challenges related to structural racism and social determinants, which can exacerbate mental health issues.
Published in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, the study took place at UI Health’s Two-Generation Clinic, which was established with the understanding that new mothers, particularly low-resource mothers of color facing numerous structural challenges, often neglect their own health care. The clinic capitalizes on children’s visits by providing mothers with primary care simultaneously.
However, fathers were frequently excluded from this process. Conversations with dads revealed sentiments such as, “I’m really stressed, but I don’t want my partner to know because I’m here to support her.” This study emerged from these discussions.
These conversations also inspired a broader research project led by Wainwright to delve deeper into fathers’ experiences, particularly regarding their mental and physical health. He believes that well-baby visits may not be the only opportunity to engage with fathers and has started speaking with expectant fathers in the obstetrics waiting area. He also seeks to screen fathers for conditions like high blood pressure during these discussions.
According to Wainwright, the medical community struggles to engage with young men, who often aren’t keen on seeing a doctor. Therefore, reaching them as they transition into fatherhood presents a significant opportunity. In fact, some of the men in the postpartum depression study who didn’t have a primary care physician are now receiving medical care from Wainwright, and others have requested mental health services.
The overarching objective of this research is to gain a better understanding of how to support men in maintaining their health for the benefit of their relationships and families, Wainwright explained.
“How can we show them that it’s important to take care of yourself for the sake of your baby, for the sake of your partner, and for your own sake?” he said.
Remember, if you need further guidance or support, don’t hesitate to reach out to your mental health professional or contact us for assistance.