Dads’ online forum posts may be a warning sign of perinatal depression

Researchers at Deakin University have mined Reddit posts and found that fathers’ posting behaviors around the time of their child’s birth can be a warning sign of depression.

One in five dads suffer from anxiety during the perinatal period – the period before and after the birth of their child. One in ten people suffer from depression. However, mental health support for fathers in the perinatal period is limited.

“It’s a huge public health problem that’s not really being addressed,” says Dr. Sam Teaguewho was until recently a postdoctoral researcher at Deakin’s Center for Early Social and Emotional Development.

Research in this area is also limited. Few researchers focus on dads. Those who struggle to find dads with the time to participate between work and new family commitments. The small number of men involved in the research makes it difficult for researchers to fully understand this population.

Dr. Teague has an innovative solution: the global online community Reddit. She analyzed thousands of posts on Reddit’s fatherhood forums r/Daddit and r/PreDaddit to better understand what issues dads face and what kind of support they want.

While the thought of researchers going through your publication history is shocking, Dr. Teague says his research team takes privacy very seriously.

“We follow strict ethical protocols when analyzing social media data. We don’t typically look at individual people’s data. We look at higher-level summary data and use machines to analyze it,” says Dr. Teague .

Researchers look for patterns in data. They see nothing that can identify individual posters.

Dads often post information about milestones such as pregnancy announcements and activities such as father bonding, Dr. Teague found. But the topic with most users and posts was the challenges of fatherhood: struggles, budget and sleep.

“We were looking at the content of the responses given by fathers, as well as how quickly they responded, how many responses they received, and how detailed the responses were.”

“One of the things that jumped out is that men tend to prefer sharing informational support with each other. That’s where they share specific advice or information to solve a problem‘, reports Dr. Teague.

A user’s post history could also provide early warning of postpartum depression, discovered Dr. Teague. Its machine learning algorithm could predict with nearly 70% accuracy which dads would use more language reflecting postpartum depression based on their postpartum posting habits.

“The impact on social engagement is a key symptom of depression. This is expressed online in the posting behaviors of dads,” she says.

Reddit users were quick to respond to posts about common challenges, like issues in the home environment or broader societal issues. But when posters shared individual challenges like mental health issues, the community was less available to help, Dr Teague found.

The Reddit forums offer all dads a great resource for peer support. Dr. Teague wants to create and provide tailored support for users who need an extra level of professional help.

Based on this research, Dr. Teague and his colleagues designed an app called Rover to help reduce stress, anxiety and depression in fathers with a new baby. Awaiting the results of a recent app trialDr. Teague hopes to make it available to dads everywhere.

“Rather than waiting for men to come to the clinic, we can bring the clinic to them,” says Dr. Teague. “I think this is the future of mental health care: to make it more dynamic and available around the world.”

Reference: Teague, SJ; Shatte, AB Exploring the Transition to Fatherhood: A Feasibility Study Using Social Media and Machine Learning. JMIR Pediatrics and parenthood 2018, 1 (2), e12371.

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