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New study highlights the impact of a father’s mental health on his kids

A new international study of more than seven million fathers has found that children faced a 42 per cent higher risk of depression if their father was depressed.

The Australian research, led by senior author and head of the Curtin School of Population Health, Professor Rosa Alti, analysed data from 16 international studies over the past 20 years, which looked at fathers who had clinical depression and a cohort who had identified symptoms of depression.

While previous research has attributed genetics to a 40% risk of depression, social determinants also are a factor in a child’s mental pathway. For example, a father dealing with depression may be less sensitive to the needs of his child and more susceptible to divorce and/or substance abuse.

“It’s the usual nature/nurture debate,” says Alati. “It’s probably a combination of both ... [but] it is not easy to disentangle genetic contributions to other life course contributions,” she said.

Professor Rosa told the Sydney Morning Herald that interventions needed to support the whole family. “Children don’t live in a vacuum.”

Read the full study: Paternal Depression and Risk of Depression Among Offspring

Clinical psychologist and program manager at the Parent Infant Research Institute, Jennifer Ericksen, told the SMH that there was significantly less support for dads, even though 10 % of new fathers experienced significant depression and had thoughts of self-harm.

“Seeking help for depression is indeed likely to reduce the impact of their depression on their family/children and men should be encouraged to seek help,” Ericksen says. “Depression is a treatable.”

Existing services

Dads Group is one fast-growing operation that supports fathers in their parenting journey with online and in-person dads groups.

Another service for fathers is SMS4Dads, a free text-messaging enterprise providing support, information and tips for dads-to-be. The service recently extended its program to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dads through SMS4DeadlyDads.

DadsSpace supports the mental and emotional wellbeing of dads, and has designed an evidence-based online program called DadBooster with the Parent-Infant Research Institute (PIRI). DadBooster claims to be a “world-first program” for fathers who are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

DadBooster is a free six-session online cognitive-behavioural therapy treatment program, similar to the therapy delivered in face-to-face psychology sessions.

It offers tailored strategies for dealing with issues and also SMS messages that provide encouragement and advice.

DadBooster is also looking for 50 dads to take part in a study to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.

Parents Beyond Breakup is a charity that supports parents experiencing trauma, related to family breakdown and separation.

The organisation has a seven-days-a-week helpline across Australia for Dads in Distress, and regular peer-led meetings for fathers.


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