-Written by Katie Little ’18
Postnatal depression is a depression that is specific to the time period following the birth of a child. While some may assume that only mothers are vulnerable to this type of depression, fathers and partners can experience depressive symptoms during this transition period as well (Postnatal Depression). Since both parents are susceptible to depressive symptoms after the birth of a child, Areias, Kumar, Barros, and Figueiredo (1996) sought to compare factors that might predict the occurrence of postnatal depression symptoms in mothers and fathers.
Some of the factors that the researchers considered were the personality traits of men and women. Personality traits are enduring patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting (McCrae & Costa, 1997). To measure personality traits, the researchers used a measure called the Eysenck Personality Inventory. This measure assesses three traits.
- Introversion: How much peace and quiet do you need to function at an optimal level?
- Extraversion: How much external stimulation do you need to function at an optimal level?
- Neuroticism: How prone are you to negative feelings?
Both mothers and fathers were given the Eysenck Personality Inventory before their babies were born. To screen for symptoms of depression, the researchers used two measures: the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia (SADS) and the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). The mothers and fathers completed these measures during pregnancy and one year after their babies were born.
At baseline (before the babies were born), women reported higher levels of neuroticism than men. This sex difference in personality is consistent in the literature (Schmitt, Realo, Voracek, & Allik, 2008). The higher women scored on the neuroticism scale, the more likely they were to have depressive symptoms during pregnancy. However, at one year postnatally, higher neuroticism scores were not a strong predictor of depressive symptoms.
For men, the higher they scored on the neuroticism scale, the more depressive symptoms they had after the birth of their babies. There was no relationship between neuroticism and depressive symptoms during their partners’ pregnancies.
Even though no relationship was found between neuroticism and postnatal depressive symptoms in women, these results do suggest that personality traits might function differently in men and women.
Further research is necessary to fully understand these differences. With further study, it may be possible to use personality measures to screen men and women for vulnerability to depressive symptoms during the pregnancy and postnatal period and implement preventative measures.
Areias, M. E., Kumar, R., Barros, H., & Figueiredo, E. (1996). Correlates of postnatal depression in mothers and fathers. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 169, 36-41.
McCrae, R.R. & Costa, P.T., (1997). Conceptions and correlates of openness to experience. In R. Hogan, J. Johnson, & S. Briggs (Eds.), Handbook of personality psychology (825-847). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Postnatal depression. (2016). Retrieved June 14, 2017, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Postnataldepression/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Schmitt, D.P., Realo, A., Voracek, M. & Allik, J. (2008). Why can’t a man be more like a woman? Sex differences in the big five personality traits across 55 cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(1), 168-182.