Depression is a common mental illness that can be tough to deal with, which affects women almost twice as much as men. When moms experience depression, it can have negative impacts on the whole family, but new research shows that active partner involvement in the family can help everyone involved.
Some people work through depression with therapy and/or medication, while others make lifestyle changes and lean on family and friends. That can be tricky when the person suffering is a mom whose family relies on her — in fact, new research has found that maternal depression can have a huge impact on the way a family functions. According to Science Daily, families with a depressed mom struggle with cohesion and expressiveness, and have more conflict than in families where the mom is not depressed. All of this has a negative impact on children’s development, making maternal depression a public health concern, Science Daily reports.
New research published in Development and Psychopathology is the first to study how a father’s involvement can mitigate the impacts of maternal depression on families. The study involved several families where the mothers had chronic depression during the first year of a newborn’s life, and then again when the child turned six years old. The researchers found that depressed mothers were overall less attuned to their baby’s needs, and were less engaged when socializing with their babies. In couples where the father also showed low-sensitivity and didn’t engage much with the baby, the whole family suffered.
But there’s hope. When the mothers with depression were partnered with a father who was engaged and sensitive to the child’s needs, the family was able to function as if the mother did not have depression. That is, when dads were involved with their kids, maternal depression didn’t have a negative impact on how the family functioned.
Jordan, a writer and mother of one son who lives in California with her husband, says that if it were not for her husband’s involvement and support, she wouldn’t have been able to cope with her postpartum depression. She tells Brit + Co that her husband helped her take care of herself in really basic ways like eating and taking showers while her depression made it almost impossible for her to take care of herself. When her husband went back to work after a few weeks of parental leave, Jordan tells us he would always come right home and help out with the baby and other chores around the house.
Now that her son is almost nine, Jordan says that her husband has remained very active and involved with their child, often taking him out for activities so she has time to herself on the weekend. She tells us that this has made managing parenting much easier, especially when she was battling significant depression for the first six months of her child’s life.
This is just one of many studies that demonstrate the myriad ways women’s and families’ well-being can be improved when male partners are active in the home. Research over the last several years has shown that despite being a significant portion of the workforce, women partnered with men still do a majority of chores around the house, including childcare. Further research has demonstrated that being responsible both for a paid job and the majority of unpaid domestic labor at home causes women to be more stressed out than men.
These already-existing responsibilities and stressors, on top of newness to motherhood and depression, clearly necessitate equal involvement from male partners. Studies have shown that when men help out around the house, women report less stress. Given these separate findings, it makes perfect sense that involving fathers when mothers are depressed makes families function better.
Science Daily notes that maternal depression is a significant issue around the world. In industrial societies, 15 to 18 percent of women have maternal depression. In developing nations, the number goes up to 30 percent. With so many families impacted by maternal depression (not to mention the mothers as individuals!), there’s a real need to learn more about how fathers can help, and educating families on how they can deal with maternal depression together.
Did your partner’s involvement at home help out with your maternal depression? Tell us about it on Twitter @BritandCo.
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