The more we talk about mental health, the better—especially when it comes to expectant and new parents. After all, one parent's struggle with depression puts the other at risk—and can affect a child's emotional well-being, too. That's the conclusion of a new study out of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).
What the Study Found
Using data collected from the Children's Sleep and Health study—in which over 1,600 expecting families in Finland were studied from the final stages of pregnancy through to when the child turned five—researchers looked at how depressive symptoms of both parents affected a child at ages two and five. They concluded that a dad's depression lead to emotional problems for a child, such as hyperactivity, aggressiveness and anxiety, only if the mom was depressed, as well. Meanwhile, mom's depressive symptoms, even if they were considered "mild," affected the child regardless of a father's depression.
Visiting Researcher Johanna Pietikäinen from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) said in a press release on the study, "In families, depression experienced by the mother has a key impact on the child's well-being." The researchers recommend health care providers pay attention to depressive symptoms among moms from the time they're pregnant through the child's first birthday.
Risk Factors of New Parents' Depression
The researcher also pointed out that not only does suffering from depression before pregnancy put one at risk for moderate to severe depression during and after those nine months, but one partner's depressive symptoms put the other partner at risk, as well. For that reason, the mental well-being of both parents should be monitored during pregnancy and after the baby is born. If one partner appears to be suffering from depression, the other should be examined.
This recommendation is particularly newsworthy, as Pietikäinen explained that "fathers' psychological well-being is not necessarily covered by depression questionnaires in maternity clinics."
Researchers also pinpointed the following as risk factors: sleep deprivation during pregnancy, stress, anxiety and a bad family environment.
- RELATED: How Depression Affects Your Family
The Bottom Line
"Depression among parents both during and after pregnancy not only affects the person suffering from depression but also has a long-term impact on the well-being of the newborn child," Pietikäinen explained. "Even in cases of mild depression, it is important that the symptoms are identified and the parents are offered support as early as possible, if necessary already during the pregnancy."
One valuable mental health resource for moms is Postpartum Support International (PSI). Reach their help line at 1-800-944-4773 (4PPD).