Dads Have Better Mental Health When They Are More Involved In Their Child’s First Year: Study

Ally Villar
·4-min read

It’s no secret that many new mums struggle with their mental health after giving birth. But the fact that new dads also go through paternal depression is rarely a topic of discussion, mostly because of the stigma surrounding it. However, that does not diminish the crucial role of father in the family and the support they need to adjust and bond with their baby.

In fact, a recent study proves just how much they benefit—both psychologically and physically—from being involved and supported during this time.

The research published in Frontiers in Psychology found that fathers who have greater involvement in their baby’s first year had fewer depressive signs.

The Significance Of Studying Postpartum Depression In Fathers

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While postpartum depression in women has been studied extensively in the past, this research sheds new light into the depressive symptoms in new dads. It says that a father’s involvement in infant caregiving could be potentially linked to paternal depression.

To further examine this link, assistant professor of psychology at California State University, Long Beach Olajide N. Bamishigbin Jr and his research team decided to analyse three factors:

  • The time a father spent with his new baby

  • Parenting self-efficacy

  • How contributing material support is associated with a dad’s depression during his child’s first year

“I am a father of two young boys myself and research is oftentimes me-search. Generally speaking, I think fathers are important in the family. However, in our field, historically, they have been understudied, especially racial/ethnic minority fathers,” Bamishigbin tells PsyPost.

Studying The Role Of Father In A Family

role of father in the family
role of father in the family

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For the study, they interviewed (a racially-diverse sample of) 881 fathers with low-income across the United States. Their behaviour when their baby was one month, 6 months, and a year after the birth was then studied. At each time point, the researchers asked the following topics:

  1. Their self-efficacy in parenting tasks

  2. How often they would provide their child with material support such as food, money or toys

  3. The estimated amount of waking hours they would spend with their baby

  4. The amount of alone time they are able to spend with their child during weekdays and weekends.

Then after the participants completed the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression, results showed that those who had greater parental self-efficacy and spent more time with their child, as well as were able to provide more material support during the first month of birth; had reduced depressive symptoms for their baby’s first year of life.

Why A Dad’s Early Involvement In Infant Caretaking Is Important

role of father in the family
role of father in the family

Image source: iStock

With their findings, researchers are now able to point out the crucial role of father in the family, especially in their baby’s first year. This includes the unmarried and those who do not live with the mum.

Bamishigbin and his team note that a hands-on dad can benefit in the following ways:

  • Being able to provide for their child may help in reducing depressive symptoms.

A primary part in a father’s role is that of a provider. Those who were unable to fulfil this role experienced low self-worth, and even depression.

  • Greater parental self-efficacy makes dads feel more satisfied as a parent.

Researchers also found that only self-efficacy during the baby’s first year was linked to a reduced likelihood of depression.

They suggest it is probably because dads who feel better about their parenting skills tend to be more satisfied as a parent. This can resultantly lessen depressive symptoms.

“Different online intervention programs have been successful in increasing parenting self-efficacy in fathers,” the authors of the study said.

“Adapting these programs and making them culturally sensitive and accessible to fathers from diverse racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds may be useful in reducing paternal depressive symptoms,” he added.

  • Spending more time with kids could alleviate paternal depression.

The research team also suggested taking paid paternal leaves. This way fathers could spend time with their babies without having to risk their work-life.

Bamishigbin also tells PsyPost that the two big takeaways from the study are:

  1. “First, involvement with your child is not only better for the child, but it’s also better for the dad,” he notes.

  2. “Second, I think it is important for everyone to understand that paternal depression is a serious issue that requires attention. It affects fathers thereby impacting the entire family,” he adds.

However, the researcher was quick to dismiss this study as one that proves lower involvement equals lower depression. As he explains, “I want to be clear that our study does not say that more involvement causes lower depression. Although we used longitudinal data, since this is not a true experiment, we cannot infer causality.”

“In the future, research should examine the time periods when fathers are most likely to be depressed so that interventions can be developed, and the physical health effects of paternal depression in fathers,” he rightly notes.

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The Importance of Good Mental Health to Support a Healthy Pregnancy: A Mum’s Own Story

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