A new baby is not always a bundle of joy
It is not just new mothers who suffer post-natal depression. New fathers are just as likely to experience the anxiety, stress and depression commonly called the baby blues, according to Australian researchers.
"What surprised us was that we were seeing rates of problems at the same level as what we were seeing in the mothers," chief researcher Jan Nicholson said of the groundbreaking study. "That was a surprise. We simply haven't looked for this before."
Professor Nicholson is research director at Melbourne's Parenting Research Centre and the study is published in the latest issue of the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.
She defined the baby blues as symptoms of being anxious, being worried, feeling stressed, feeling unable to cope, feeling blue and despairing of things getting better.
The team looked at mental health data for 5,000 new mothers up until their child turned 5 and at questionnaires returned by 3,471 of the fathers. In the first year of the child's life, 9.7 per cent of fathers reported symptoms of post-natal depression compared with 9.4 per cent of mothers - a statistically insignificant difference.
"We were able to determine that new fathers have a higher rate of these problems, a 40-per-cent higher rate, than men generally who are of a similar age and background," Nicholson said.
Men with lower incomes were at a 70-per-cent higher risk and the younger the father the higher the risk.
Those who displayed high levels of psychological stress when their babies were infants were much more likely to still be reporting psychological problems when their children were 2 and when they were 4.
Nicholson said that the study highlighted the need to get rid of the idea that only young mothers get the baby blues.
"There's often an assumption that with mothers their distress is related to biological changes, but also that early life services are very much geared around mothers and babies, and we really haven't looked at fathers closely before to see what's going on with them," she said.
"We think that to the extent that we have services that are geared to supporting women, given that the rate is the same for men, we should be having similar efforts going into supporting men."