Becoming a parent for the first time can be hard for some people. But some new parents may risk developing a mental disorder when they also face social pressures to be perfect parents.
Results from a recent study showed that new parents were at risk for developing mental health disorders like anxiety or depression as pressures to be perfect parents increased.
Carrie Wendel-Hummell, Kansas University doctoral candidate at the Center for Research on Aging and Disability Options, studied perinatal mental health issues for new parents.
Perinatal refers to a period of weeks before, during and after the birth of a child.
In a press release, Wendel-Hummell noted that awareness of the dangers of depression for new mothers is not enough. She said research needs to include other perinatal mental health conditions that could affect all new parents — even new dads.
“Both mothers and fathers need to pay attention to their mental health during the perinatal period, and they need to watch for these other types of conditions, not just depression,” Wendel-Hummell said. “Anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, and bi-polar disorder are all shaped by circumstances that surround having a baby.”
Wendel-Hummell interviewed parents of children who were between the ages of 2 months and 6 years. The study participants included 30 new moms and 17 new dads from Kansas and Missouri.
Participants ranged from low-income (the participant or child was on some form of government help) to middle-class parents who said they had at least one perinatal mental health issue.
Wendel-Hummell found that, while new mothers had mixed reasons for their perinatal mental health issues, social and cultural factors were most frequent. Issues regarding time-management and a lack of money were also common.
A few couples stated that they had argued about parenting choices, such as where a child should sleep, and that their relationship was strained due to a loss of alone time.
Wendel-Hummell also noted that new dads reported having stress from working in places that did not have family-leave policies and a lack of resources available to prepare them for fatherhood.
“Nobody is asking about the father and how he’s doing,” Wendel-Hummell said in a press release.
Wendel-Hummell noted that, most often, the focus is on mom and child, which can make it hard for men to talk about their emotions.
The study’s findings indicated a need for better methods of testing for perinatal mental health issues during pregnancy and the first year after childbirth for both parents.
Wendel-Hummell said she hoped that her research would bring attention to the need for more social policies like paid maternity and paternity leave, sick pay and accessible health care coverage. She also noted a need to adjust general beliefs around parenting, which includes putting less pressure on new parents to be perfect.
This study was presented at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting in August.
A grant from the Midwest Sociological Society funded the research. Wendel-Hummell disclosed no conflicts of interest.