A new study at the Karolinska Institute in Solna in collaboration with the Stockholm County Council showed that men are just as likely as women to experience depressive symptoms after becoming parents.
“We didn’t think we’d find so many,” Magdalena Carlberg, who lead the study, told The Local. “We expected fewer fathers than mothers to express depressive symptoms, considering the general prevalence of depression in men and women.”
The study included more than 3,600 new dads in Stockholm. Some 15 percent of them reported they experienced symptoms of depression after child birth. The number matches post-partum depression rates of mothers, that is estimated at 10 to 15 percent in Stockholm County.
If the statistics for the rest of Sweden match those of Stockholm, over 15,000 new fathers in Sweden may face depression to various degrees after they become a parent, whether for the first time or not.
The participants in the study filled out two questionnaires about how they had been feeling, answering the same questions given to new mums. The questionnaires use a point system to calculate a total score. At a certain number of points, the parent was considered to be showing possible symptoms of depression.
“International studies show that fathers underestimate and thus under-report their symptoms by about two points,” Carlberg told The Local. “So we set the limit for the fathers two points lower than on the scale for women. But even if we raise the limit, the numbers will still probably be quite similar to those of new mothers with symptoms, who have been estimated to 10-15 percent in Stockholm County.”
It took Jonas Rasmussen, a father from southern Sweden, several years to seek help for his depression. Rasmussen was rarely happy, but thought that was just how it felt to be a dad.
“At one point I sat down at the kitchen table and said to myself that I love my wife, I love my son, but I hate being a parent,” Rasmussen told Sveriges Radio (SR).
“Now I can really enjoy sitting down and building lego with him,” Rasmussen said. “Or drawing or reading him a book. It’s truly remarkable.”
The term baby blues usually refers to post-partum depression in women, most likely caused by fluctuating hormone levels and is also common among mothers a couple of days after giving birth. Carlberg said, however, that a different kind of depression can set in any time during the first year after delivery – which is the depression stalking new fathers. For dads the symptoms appear to be delayed, with an increasing number of new fathers beginning to display signs of depression, reaching a peak when the child is about six months old.
“Both for mums and dads with depressive symptoms,” Carlberg said, “this can lead to relationship problems with the child, the partner and within the family.”