A study of more than 2600 families found that paternal depression during infancy could and have a negative impact on a child’s behaviour and development and cause ongoing emotional problems.
Dr Fletcher and his team found that infants with depressed fathers were more likely to have continuing behavioural problems at ages four and five than those with happier fathers.
The research adds to emerging evidence that it is not just mothers’ mental health that affects children’s development — dads’ happiness matters too.
“Self-reported depression in fathers during the first year of a child’s life can have a detrimental impact on their child’s behaviour and social and emotional development at the point of school entry,” Dr Fletcher said.
He said early paternal depression was more strongly associated with hyperactivity in boys and emotional problems in girls.
These associations are held irrespective of maternal depression, socioeconomic status and later paternal depression.
The study, published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, was based on a representative sample of 2620 Australian families using data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.
Dr Fletcher said his findings highlight a need for early intervention to identify and address the mental health needs of fathers.
Further to this, Dr Fletcher completed a study into online support for fathers with depression which appears in the current issue of the Health Promotion Journal of Australia.
In this study, Dr Fletcher found very few websites provided information to support fathers’ connection with their infants or opportunities for fathers to interact with each other.
Dr Fletcher’s study examined online parenting and health sources to identify gaps in websites offering information to parents.
He said that providing fathers with information and support could improve child and family outcomes when one or both parents have perinatal depression.
“Father-inclusive guidelines may assist health and parenting websites to more effectively target information and support for depression-affected families,” he said.