Men are inching their way into every aspect of mothering with a new study showing they are just as likely as women to suffer the baby blues.
An Australian study, published in the journal of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, shows postnatal depression hits fathers and mothers equally in the first 12 months of a newborn's life.
Young fathers are particularly vulnerable with those aged under 30 facing a 40 per cent increased risk of developing postnatal depression compared with fathers aged over 30.
Co-author Professor Jan Nicholson, of the Parenting Research Centre in Melbourne, says the finding suggests current screening for postnatal depression risk among new mothers should be extended to new fathers.
"As the birth of a baby can result in profound changes to lifestyle and recreation, sleep patterns, couple relationships and identity, it is not surprising that adjustment difficulties may arise for fathers at this time," the researchers note.
The study used data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) to track fathers' mental health in three waves - when children were aged three to 12 months, two to three years, and 4 to 5 years old.
This data was then compared with findings about the male population from the 2007 Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing.
Nicholson says their study shows 9.7 per cent of fathers suffer postnatal depression in the first year of their child's life. This compares with a rate of postnatal depression among new mothers of 9.4 per cent.
Further fathers were 1.38 times more likely to undergo psychological distress when compared with the Australian adult male population.
Juggling roles and responsibilities
Nicholson says the researchers were "surprised" by the extent of the problem with the issue affecting men at statistically equal rates as women.
"Increasingly there is a recognition that fathers are a key support for women with children," she says. "This study shows however men are vulnerable too because they are also lacking in sleep and juggling roles and responsibilities."
She says 30 per cent of fathers who have problems in the first year continue to report ongoing mental health issues as their children age.
This high rate of ongoing problems highlights the importance of including fathers in early parenting support schemes, she says.
The study also reveals non-resident fathers face a higher rate of mental health symptoms, with 17 per cent and 14 per cent reporting clinical distress at 2 to 3 years and 4 to 5 years respectively.
However the researchers stress these results could be influenced by other factors such as conflict with the child's other parent and parenting difficulties.
"We need to be detecting at-risk fathers early and responding early because we know [mental health issues] are harder to treat if they are prolonged," Nicholson says.
The authors of the paper say there is a need to increase awareness of fathers' mental health issues in the early childhood period.
"This may include public health messages about father wellbeing to normalise and promote help-seeking during this time of significant adjustment," they write.
"It is recommended that routine screening for mental health difficulties also be extended to fathers in the postnatal period and the capacity of practitioners working in early parenting settings strengthened to respond to the specific needs of fathers."
The researchers are now using the LSAC data to understand better which fathers are most at risk and how this impacts on children.