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.


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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.

References

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  2. 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.
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