Depression in dads affects kids gravely
A father's depression can have tremendous effect on his young son or daughter, a new study has revealed.
"When a parent is interacting with their child, they need to be able to attend to the child's emotional state, be cued in to his developmental stage and abilities, and notice whether he is getting frustrated or needs help. Depressed parents have more difficulty doing that," Nancy McElwain, a U of I professor of human development, said.
But if a depressed dad has a close relationship with a partner who listens to and supports him, the quality of father-child interaction improves, she noted.
"A supportive spouse appears to buffer the effects of the father's depression. We can see it in children's behavior when they're working with their dad. The kids are more persistent and engaged," Jennifer Engle, the study's lead author, said.
Interestingly, depressed mothers didn't get the same boost from a supportive spouse.
That may be because men and women respond to depression differently, she said.
"Men tend to withdraw; women tend to ruminate. We think that high emotional intimacy and sharing in the marriage may encourage a woman's tendency to ruminate about her depression, disrupting her ability to be available and supportive with her children," she said.
Depressed men, on the other hand, are more likely to withdraw from their partners.
"This makes emotional intimacy in the marriage an important protective factor for fathers," McElwain said.
The study emphasizes the need for depressed parents to seek support, if not from their spouses, from friends, family, and medical professionals, she added.
The study is published in the journal Developmental Psychology.