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Paternal depression - Several Jamaican fathers need help after the birth of their children

Published:Thursday | December 6, 2018 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/ Staff Reporter

Concerned that a number of Jamaican men suffer from paternal depression after the birth of their children, child-development expert Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan has endorsed proposals for Jamaica to introduce paternity leave.

According to Samms-Vaughan, Jamaican men have been getting subliminal messages, for the most part, that they are not as important when it comes to caring for their children.

"We disengage men from the process of being with their children from very early, so they are often not in the delivery room, they are often not in the process, and there are some places where they are not even encouraged in the labour room," she said.

"Our antenatal clinics are not held at times when men can frequently accompany women, although we are seeing more and more men accompanying the women now," noted Samms-Vaughan.

The professor found that about 10 per cent of the men who participated in the Jamaican birth cohort study JA Kids, displayed depressive symptoms based on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.

"Fathers do get initially depressed, [and] a proportion are initially unhappy or have mixed feelings about the pregnancy," Samms-Vaughan told The Gleaner.

"We really need to meet our fathers where they are and to be really encouraging them and supporting them," added Samms-Vaughan during a recent regional meeting in Santiago, Chile, to discuss UNICEF's Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Jamaican birth cohort study JA Kids involved 3,425 fathers of newborn children who answered questions about their relationship status, social support, health expectations, and views of their partner's pregnancy.




"Some of them said they were shocked as if they weren't expecting the pregnancy," said Samms-Vaughan, who is a professor of child health, child development, and behaviour at The University of the West Indies, Mona.

She argued that it is important for Jamaican fathers to get support but noted that as is the case in other sections of the Caribbean, Jamaican fathers are often described as being 'worthless'.

"We haven't explored enough some of the issues that fathers face. We don't talk to them, and we don't ask them any questions and make judgement based on their responses," added Samms-Vaughan.

The study found that the lack of a close circle of friends who could give help in times of trouble added to depression and that relationship quality predicted depressive symptoms.

The sexuality of Jamaican fathers was also explored as a few studies have suggested that some men report decrease in libido during a partner's pregnancy or after the baby was born.

"Relationship quality was the most consistent predictor of men's sexuality, with men in higher-quality relationships reporting higher sexual satisfaction, fewer sexual partners, and higher frequency of sex, among other findings," the researchers concluded.

There has been increasing support for paternity leave in Jamaica, and permanent secretary in the gender ministry Denzil Thorpe announced last month that there would be consultations on the relevance of paternity leave based on discussions regarding the passing of a paternal leave act.


How to cope


Since paternal depression has been shown to seriously affect the life of the family and that of the child, it needs to be prevented where possible and treated appropriately. Suggested measures include:

• social-support mechanisms such as paid paternity leave as is available or compulsory in some European countries.

• familial and partner support and reinforcement.

• praise and practical advice during the father's attempts to parent his family.

• education about family life, especially during pregnancy, childbirth, and early infant life, infant care, and commonly occurring infant problems.

• support for female partners with postnatal depression, which is of great use in helping the man himself keep out of depression.