Parents in Blended Families at Increased Risk of Depression

February 10, 2015

Both men and women who hold multiple parenting roles in blended families are at increased risk of depression, according to a new study published online in Social Work.

Researchers analyzed data from 6,276 parents nationwide to investigate how combined parenting roles influenced depressive symptoms in men and women. They found that parents in “yours, mine and ours” families—in which each parent is a parent, a stepparent, and a parent again when a new child is born into the blended family—are 57% more likely to be depressed than men and women with just one parenting role.

"There are norms that govern parenting, but there aren't norms for being a stepparent," said Kevin Shafer, PhD, professor of social work at Brigham Young University. "Am I supposed to be an actual parent, a friend, or something like a cool uncle?"

Men in blended families who live apart from their biological children are at an even higher risk of depression, researchers reported, especially when a baby is born into the blended family, researchers found. According to Dr. Shafer, feelings of guilt over spending more time with new children partially drive depressive symptoms.

Childlessness, meanwhile, is more negatively associated with psychological well-being for women, researchers reported.

“Within the context of changing family structure in the United States, these results have important implications for social workers and other mental health professionals—particularly with regard to screening for depression among parents, who are less likely to seek mental health counseling than childless adults,” the researchers wrote.

—Jolynn Tumolo

References

1. Shafer K, Pace GT. Gender differences in depression across parental roles. Social Work. 2015 Feb. 5. [Epub ahead of print].

2. Parenting and depression study: fathers are at risk, too [press release]. EurekAlert!: Washington, DC; Feb. 5, 2015.