Rates of paternal depression range from 5% to 10% with a growing body of literature describing the harm to fathers, children, and families. Changes in depression symptoms over the life course, and the role of social factors, are not well known. This study examines associations with changes in depression symptoms during the transition to fatherhood for young fathers and whether this association differed by key social factors.
We combined all 4 waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to support a 23-year longitudinal analysis of 10 623 men and then created a “fatherhood-year” data set, regressing age-adjusted standardized depressive symptoms scores on fatherhood status (nonresidence/residence), fatherhood-years, and covariates to determine associations between Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale scores and fatherhood life course intervals.
Depressive symptom scores reported at the entry into fatherhood are higher for nonresident fathers than nonfathers, which in turn are higher than those of resident fathers. Resident fathers have a significant decrease in scores during late adolescence (β = –0.035, P = .023), but a significant increase in scores during early fatherhood (β = 0.023, P = .041). From entrance into fatherhood to the end of early fatherhood (+5 years), the depressive symptoms score for resident fathers increases on average by 68%.
In our longitudinal, population-based study, resident fathers show increasing depressive symptom scores during children's key attachment years of 0–5. Identifying at-risk fathers based on social factors and designing effective interventions may ultimately improve health outcomes for the entire family.