It finally happened. Ready or not, you've reached the peak of ultimate responsibility. Congratulations – you’re a dad! But maybe you don't feel as joyful as you expected, and instead you’re down, stressed or short-tempered. You could be struggling from depression stemming from your newfound role as a father, according to one study.
You’re not alone
Researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago gathered data from 10,623 men who were surveyed for depression symptoms regularly over a 23-year period. During the study, about a third of the men became fathers, most often in their 20s. The researchers found that, among men who lived in the same home as their child, depression scores spiked 68 percent during the first five years of fatherhood. Men who didn’t live with their kids, on the other hand, saw no such increase (but they were less happy to begin with). The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.
The reasons for your dark disposition
Up to 10 percent of fathers suffer from depression, the researchers point out. Experts say the stress, financial worries and plummeting “me time” that accompany a new baby could be to blame. Other research has shown that these factors can take a toll on life satisfaction among dads and moms, cancelling out the joy a new bundle brings.
And the kids suffer, too, when dad is sad. Depressed fathers are more likely to disengage from their children and use harsh parenting tactics, such as spanking and yelling. In turn, that leads to more behavior disorders and stifles learning development in the kids. As parents’ roles have changed and fathers are taking on a bigger role in childcare, that danger grows, so it’s even more important for fathers who are struggling to get help.
How to mend your mood
Remember dad, you've got a lot to be thankful for and should do everything in your power to protect your family. If you and your partner are thriving, you boost the chances of your children thriving, too. So, if depression is in the cards right now, here's how you play the hand you're dealt and take control of your mental health:
- Strategize stress management. Between a hectic work schedule and raising a family, you're feeling a bit burnt out. But don't let stress take you out of the game – make time to relax and spend time doing things you love and enjoy.
- Tone up, pop! Getting fit can help you feel your best—physically and mentally. One study showed that it was better than an antidepressant at lifting mood in the long term.
- Chart your progress. Logging your symptoms can help you figure out what makes you feel your best (or worst). Talk to your doctor regularly, especially if you develop new symptoms.