It is important, however, to keep in mind that just as positive interactions have their benefits on the well-being of the child, negative interactions has its potential risks. The mental health of fathers and a father’s ability to support depressed or mentally ill mothers has profound effects on children. Postpartum depression in fathers is a real and often under recognized condition that not only affects the father, but can have negative impacts on children as well. Rates of postpartum depression in men have been noted to be as high as 10.4% in some instances.13
However, men are unfortunately less likely to seek help for depression,14 which can contribute to negative outcomes for their children, especially if the child’s mother is also depressed. Specifically, children whose fathers were depressed in both the prenatal and postnatal periods had the highest risk of subsequent psychopathology at 3.5 years old and psychiatric diagnosis at 7 years old.15 And is seems that stable mental health of fathers can help to decrease the negative effects of maternal depression on the child.
For example, a father’s depression status was a significant predictor of children’s emotional adjustment when mothers were depressed.16 Also, the presence of a non-depressed father is associated with lower rates of behavior problems among children of depressed mothers.17 Therefore, we must be cognizant of the mental health of fathers and provide support and treatment when indicated.
As mental health professionals we must never minimize the value of responsible and caring fathering in the lives of the children we serve. Take the time to recognize and encourage positive fathering when you see it. And provide education, support, and treatment to those who may be struggling with the challenges of parenting. Fathers are important, and the benefits seen with positive fathering can last a lifetime.
Melissa Vallas, MD, is lead psychiatrist at Children’s System of Care, Alameda County (California) Behavioral Health Care Services Agency. Her website is http://www.melissavallasmd.com.
- Fagan J and Palkovitz R.. Unmarried, non-resident fathers’ involvement with their infants: A risk and resilience perspective. J Fam Psychol. 2007; 21(3): 479.
- Palkovitz R, et al. Coparenting and Children’s Well-being. In Cabrera NJ, Tamis-Lemonda CS, eds. Handbook of Father Involvement: Multidisciplinary Perspectives. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Routledge; 2013.
- May KA. Fathers’ responses to childbirth: A replication and extension. West J Nurs Res.. 1984; 6(3):29.
- Cabrera NJ, et al. Explaining the long reach of fathers’ pre-natal involvement on later paternal engagement. J Marriage Fam. 2008: 70(5): 1094-1107.
- Gogineni R and Fallon AE. The adoptive father. In Brabender VM, Fallon AE, eds. Working with adoptive parents: Research, theory, and therapeutic interventions. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Inc.; 2013.
- Grossmann K., et al. The uniqueness of the child–father attachment relationship: Fathers’ sensitive and challenging play as a pivotal variable in a 16‐year longitudinal study. Soc Dev.. 2002; 11(3):301-337.
- Al-Yagon M. Child–Mother and Child–Father Attachment Security: Links to Internalizing Adjustment Among Children with Learning Disabilities. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. 2014; 45(1): 119-131.
- McWayne C, et al. Father Involvement During Early Childhood and Its Association with Children’s Early Learning: A Meta-Analysis. Early Educ Dev. 2013; 24(6): 898-922.
- Meece D and Robinson CM. Father–child interaction: associations with self-control and aggression among 4.5-year-olds. Early Child Dev Care. 2014; 184(5): 783-794.
- Sarkadi A, et al. Fathers’ involvement and children’s developmental outcomes: a systematic review of longitudinal studies. Acta Paediatrica. 2008. 97(2): 153-158.
- Tastan N. Effect of father-child bonding on conflict resolution during emerging adulthood. Soc Behav Pers. 2013; 41(8): 1339-1345.
- Johnson AN. Engaging fathers in the NICU: taking down the barriers to the baby. J Perinat Neonatal Nurs. 2008; 22(4): 302-306.
- Paulson JF and Bazemore SD. Pre-natal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: a meta-analysis. JAMA. 2010; 303(19):1961-1969.
- O’Brien R et al. ‘It’s caveman stuff, but that is to a certain extent how guys still operate’: men’s accounts of masculinity and help seeking. Soc Sci Med. 2005; 61(3): 503-516.
- Ramchandani PG, et al. The effects of pre‐and postnatal depression in fathers: a natural experiment comparing the effects of exposure to depression on offspring. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2008; 49(10): 1069-1078.
- Goodman SH, et al. Social and emotional competence in children of depressed mothers. Child Dev. 1993; 64(2): 516-531.
- Conrad M and Hammen C. Protective and resource factors in high and low-risk children: A comparison of children with unipolar, bipolar, medically ill, and normal mothers. Dev Psychopathol. 1993; 5(4): 593-607.