Being a young parent used to be the norm. These days, many people are waiting to have children, instead focusing on career, travel or just plain fun while in their 20s. But for those who are still having children young, depression (and postpartum depression) can come as part of the package, a new study says.
Mary was 22 when she had her second child and began to battle depression. Her husband, also depressed, refused to seek couples counseling with her. Mary eventually got professional help — and a divorce. “It was mostly time and being around other moms going through the same thing that helped me,” she says.
Mary isn’t alone. A new study to be published in the November print issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine says that young parents (defined as those who have children between ages 15 and 24) are more likely to suffer from depression. And it’s not limited to young mothers. Young fathers, like Mary’s husband, are experiencing depression — including postpartum depression — as well.
According to the study, depression is more likely to occur during the first year of life than in subsequent years. And young parents, those who are socially deprived and those with a history of depression are at the greatest risk. “Younger parents may be less prepared for parenthood with more unplanned pregnancies and may be less able to deal with the stresses of parenthood compared with older parents,” the researchers say.
Recognize the signs and dangers
Depression doesn’t have to be battled in silence or alone. “About 10% of new dads experience depression. If the mom has postpartum depression, however, the risk of the dad’s depression jumps between 24 and 50%,” says Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and survivor of two life-threatening postpartum depressions. Dr. Shoshana is also the author of Pregnant on Prozac, author of Postpartum Depression For Dummies, and past president of Postpartum Support International.
According to Bennett, loved ones can help if they notice symptoms of depression in young mothers and young fathers. A mom might be battling depression or postpartum depression if she:
- has low self esteem
- can’t sleep at night when her baby is sleeping
- lost her appetite
- worries constantly
- feels hopeless
- is angry a lot
- is experiencing any other symptom that’s getting in the way of her functioning
“The person should say, ‘You deserve to be happy. Let’s find you some excellent help so you can feel like yourself again,'” says Bennett. Further, they can assist with transportation to the appointment, help out so that the mom or dad can get enough sleep and even encourage them to eat well and exercise.
Impact on others
Mary says that she tried hard not to let her depression impact her children. “At times, though, when the depression was weighing me down, I probably was not as “there” for them as I could have been. They are really great people now, and are very in tune with their feelings, so I don’t think that it had too bad an impact on them,” says Mary.
But for other kids, there can be ill effects, says Bennett.”Children have higher rates of developmental problems — cognitive, physical, and verbal. The rates of various behavioral disturbances in these children are also high and they are often depressed themselves before age 15,” says Bennett.
Depression can also impact marriages. Mary experienced that first-hand. “I found that I felt so much better after this than when we were together. As a matter of fact, while I’ve been down from time to time, I haven’t experienced any bouts of real depression since we split up,” says Mary.