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Detecting the 'baby blues' in dads, new screening tool developed in Northeast Ohio

Posted at 9:15 AM, Jun 27, 2024

BEREA, Ohio — Being a parent can take a toll on the mental health of not only moms before and after birth, but often not talked about is the impact of parenthood on dads.

International research shows about 10% of fathers experience depression before their baby is born.

That rate, according to the National Institutes of Health, increases significantly in the three-to-six months following birth, with more than 25% of dads experiencing symptoms.

As a father of two young children, I wanted to learn more about a new screening tool created right here in Northeast Ohio to better detect paternal depression, which some now consider a "silent pandemic."

Before becoming a dad for the first time, Josh Skerl experienced a wide range of emotions.

"Yeah, definitely there were heightened feelings of anxiety, depression. Are you going to be able to provide as your child needs," said Skerl.

It's a mental state many fathers find themselves in.

“Definitely, both during pregnancy and after pregnancy," said Brittany Randall-Pope with Ohio Guidestone.

However, for years, researchers have traditionally kept a close watch on women during those stages.

"We've been measuring how this looks and feels commonly to moms and we're not looking for how dads might experience it differently," said Randall-Pope. "Around six months when mama of the baby is pregnant, dad's anxiety is going through the roof."

She, along with a team from the mental and behavioral health service provider, developed a new screening tool that asks dads more than two dozen questions.

"What does it feel like when you're feeling depressed? What does it feel like when you're worried so much so that it turns into anxiety," said Randall-Pope.

The catalyst for creating it came from a former director's interactions with clients.

"She was noticing that dads are lingering around for the appointment for mom or babies and a lot of her team members were coming back saying like, hey, this dad asked me, could I screen him for depression too," said Randall-Pope.

The Yates Paternal Depression Screening Tool exposes a topic many men are not very forthcoming about due to that lingering stigma.

"Boys can't cry, men can't cry, and we know that you experience symptoms well beyond crying, but boys and men can cry too," said Randall-Pope.

The findings not only detect if a dad has elevated symptoms and needs to be connected to resources but they have also been used to train clinicians.

"Dads are recognizing they need something," said Randall-Pope.

I learned that for the dads if they're in a good place, that's going help mom and baby.

“Actually, what we know, so first of all, men and fathers deserve to have their health addressed no matter what. But we also know that maternal depression is directly linked to paternal depression. If mom is depressed, more likely that dad is, if dad is depressed, more likely that mom is," said Randall-Pope.

Now the father of two boys, ages six and three, Josh Skerl was able to identify his emotional well-being on his own.

"I was able to get a lot of support from family and friends," said Skerl.

But he told me that having a paternal depression tool can help spark much-needed conversations among men who aren’t able to recognize the impact parenting is having on them.

"Fathers need to see and dads need to see other people and other fathers and dads talking about challenges they've had in the past. I have found that dads wanna be engaged in some level, a lot of times they just don't know how," said Skerl.

As for the impact on those dads screened, Randall-Pope said one of the biggest things they hear is thank you.

Dads are grateful for the chance to talk about their feelings.

A talk that was originally just going to be one time, but now it’s a five-session program to make sure both parents are fully supported.

"Being a good father and good dad doesn't happen by accident," said Skerl.

To learn more about the Yates Paternal Depression Screening Tool, click here.