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Depression affects a fifth of all fathers

6 Sep 2010

A fifth of fathers and more than a third of mothers experience depression before their child turns 12 years old, with the highest rates in the first year after birth, according to a new study from the Medical Research Council (MRC). Parental depression has serious knock-on effects for children too and therefore scientists are calling for greater awareness of the occurrence of depression not just in mothers, but also fathers, and a greater understanding of the most at-risk groups.

The study, conducted by scientists at the MRC General Practice Research Framework and University College London (UCL), found 1 in 7 mothers and 1 in 28 fathers experienced depression in the first year after the child was born, owing to the stresses of having a baby, such as lack of sleep, a change in responsibilities and additional demands on a couple’s relationship. Between a child’s birth and age 12, more than 1 in 13 mothers suffered depression in any given year, compared to nearly 1 in 37 fathers. Most vulnerable were younger parents (aged 15-24 years) particularly those with a history of depression and those from deprived areas.

Professor Irwin Nazareth, director of the MRC General Practice Research Framework and lead author of the study, said:

“It is standard clinical practice to screen new mothers for depression, but currently no equivalent scheme exists for fathers. Our research shows dads are in great need too and hope the findings will inform and encourage the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) for a change in policy.

“Parental depression can have a serious impact on children’s behaviour and development as well so it’s vital that we improve our understanding of it in order to lessen the burden on the whole family. We must also support GPs with training to recognise those parents who are most vulnerable, such as young parents.”

The scientists studied patient records of 86,957 families seen in 350 GPs between 1993 and 2007. Parents with depression were identified using their health records and were followed for up to 12 years. 19,286 mothers had a total of 25,176 episodes of depression while 8,012 fathers had a total of 9,683 episodes of depression.

Professor Stephen Holgate, chair of the MRC’s Population and Systems Medicine Board, said:

“Research, like this, which leads to improvements and changes in clinical policy and practice is central to the MRC’s remit of informing healthcare decision makers. This is the first study to chart parents’ depression over much of a child’s life, and provides an accurate picture of the patterns of paternal depression. By identifying those who are most at risk, we can help to improve detection and management of the condition in future.”

The study, Incidence of maternal and paternal depression in primary care, is published in the Archives of Paediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, a JAMA/Archives journal.


  • Categories:
  • Health categories: Mental Health
  • Strategic objectives: Mental health and wellbeing, Life course perspective
  • Locations: London
  • Type: Success story