Recently, researchers from Lund University, Sweden, found a direct relationship between depression among new fathers and attachment insecurity (attachment in a relationship characterized by avoidance and/or anxiety). Elia Psouni, psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Lund University, and Anna Eichbichler, clinical psychologist, have added relevant information to growing research over the past couple decades focused on mental health among fathers. In more recent years, the issue of post-natal depression (PND) among fathers has presented greater insight into why men may be experiencing PND.
Psouni and Eichbichler’s research in particular, highlights the influence of attachment insecurities on PND pre-dispositions among fathers. They surveyed 530 fathers with infants 1-18 months old. The most common age-group among the fathers was 30-39 years old. Using six separate psychometric scales, Psouni and Eichbichler measured for paternal depression, parenting stress, partner relationship, and attachment on the basis of avoidance and anxiety.
First and foremost, they found that nearly one in five new fathers were experiencing symptoms of depression. Of these, 43 fathers described very debilitating symptoms and 22 described very serious symptoms.
Causes of PND in New Fathers
The researchers also highlight many previous studies regarding depression among new fathers which have found that “the strongest correlate of father PND is depression in the partner.” This is important, because previous studies built the momentum that that the leading cause of depressive symptoms among fathers is attachment insecurities. In fact, a father's depression can be a product of many environmental factors such as “having a low household income” and relational factors such as “lower support and higher conflict between partners.”
Psouni best describes attachment insecurity as “having a negative view of oneself, one's own characteristics and abilities, while valuing other people highly.” If left unaddressed, this pattern of thought “often leads to a constant worry about not being good enough, about disappointing others and – potentially – losing them.” The well-being of one parent after the birth of a child relies on the well-being of their partner, and it’s a two way street.
In addition to attachment insecurities directly linking to depressive symptoms, attachment insecurities also indirectly link to the onset of PND by way of stress of not being good enough as a parent. The issue is not strictly dependent upon relationship difficulties. “Low self-confidence in close relationships seems to trigger parental stress, which in turn triggers the symptoms of depression,” says Psouni. This finding tells us that even fathers in a rather healthy relationship can experience significant depressive symptoms after the birth of their child.
“The study shows beyond doubt that parents affect one another and reveals the importance of monitoring how parents in various relationships and family constellations manage and fare over a long period,” says Psouni. This study was pivotal because in making the high frequency of PND among fathers more well known, early detection of depression in new fathers is motivated and destigmatized. A father’s struggle with PND can become more easily recognized and diagnosed once medical personnel, family, and friends understand how common it really is.
Written by Aiden Suttlehan
This article has been republished from Renewed Awareness Magazine.