Study reveals poor co-parenting association with depression in dads

Jan 25, 2023

Solna [Sweden], January 25 : According to a new study from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, fathers are more likely to feel depressed when their children are toddlers if their co-parenting relationships are poor in the months following birth.
The findings are published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
"We have a lot to gain as a society if we support coparenting relationships more during the early stages of parenthood," said Michael Wells, associate professor at the Department of Women's and Children's Health, Karolinska Institutet. "One way to do that is to screen fathers for their co-parenting status during infancy and toddlerhood and to offer interventions aimed at improving collaboration and communication around the child if needed."
Around 9-10 percent of dads experience postpartum depression, which is high compared with the overall population. Children who grow up with depressed dads are also at a higher risk of mental, emotional, and behavioral problems in their youth, according to prior research. By identifying modifiable factors that reduce the risk of depression in dads, researchers hope to develop interventions that can prevent mental illness in both parents and children.
In the current study, 429 fathers of infants up to two years old in Sweden were recruited on Facebook. The participants were asked to complete questionnaires where they ranked symptoms of depression and the nature of their coparenting relationships. Data were collected at three time points when the children were on average 8, 13, and 26 months old. About 20 percent of dads reported symptoms of depression at some point during the study.
According to the findings, two-thirds of fathers with exceptionally poor coparenting relationships during the first year after birth are likely to have symptoms of depression when their children become toddlers. Conversely, fathers with higher parenting scores are more likely to have fewer symptoms of depression. The researchers also found associations between depression at earlier stages and worse co-parenting relationships later on.
"We found bidirectional associations between depression and poor coparenting, meaning these two factors seem to influence each other in both directions. However, the strongest predictor for the development of depression was a poor coparenting relationship in the early stages of childhood, as compared to the other way around," Michael Wells said.