ANN ARBOR, Mich – African-American fathers who do not live with their sons and who suffer from depression are less likely to spend time with them, according to a University of Michigan study.
Dads who don’t live with their children can still have a positive impact in their kids’ lives however, and treating their depression could help them play a more active and positive role in their lives, says U-M pediatrician R. Neal Davis, M.D., a fellow with the Child Health Evaluation and Research unit and a lead author in the study which appeared in the December issue of Pediatrics.
Davis and his colleagues analyzed data for 345 participants in the Fathers and Sons program, which is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The program is for pre-teen boys and African-American fathers who did not live with their children. The program’s goal is to prevent unhealthy behaviors in adolescent boys by increasing positive involvement with their fathers. Data collected from those participants found that 36 percent of fathers in the program suffered from moderate depression and 11 percent had severe depression.
Researchers found that fathers with depressive symptoms were up to three times more likely to report lower levels of contact with their preteen sons. They also had less closeness, less monitoring of activities and higher conflict in relationships with their sons.
The findings are significant because children who don’t have positive father involvement are at higher risk of mental health conditions, such as depression, and unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, alcohol use, drug use, sexual activity, and not taking recommended medicines.
“Addressing paternal depressive symptoms may lead to increased support and protection for many children and adolescents at increased risk for adverse health and health behaviors,” Davis says.
In the last few years, many responsible fatherhood programs have been established in communities around the United States. These programs should include efforts to identify and follow up on fathers’ depressive symptoms, he adds.
Because African American fathers who do not live with their sons can still have a positive impact on them, health care providers should recognize that and try to understand factors that influence their involvement, such as depressive symptoms, he adds.
Additional authors: Cleopatra Howard Caldwell, PhD, Sarah J. Clark, MPH, Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, all of the University of Michigan
Journal reference: DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-0718