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Parents in approx. 30,000 Japan homes with infants face mental health risk: research

The Central Government Building No. 5 that houses the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is seen in this file photo taken in the Kasumigaseki district of Tokyo on Oct. 14, 2015. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- It's estimated that parents in some 30,000 households a year in Japan with children less than a year old are at risk of developing depression or other mental health problems, according to research by the National Center for Child Health and Development published in the British science journal Scientific Reports.

    The team behind the study says they are concerned about child care conditions worsening, and highlighted that "In addition to supporting the mother and child care, it's important to develop a health management system for the fathers."

    Within responses from 224,208 households to sections concerning health in the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare's 2016 Comprehensive Survey of Living Conditions, the team extracted data on 3,514 households including both parents and a child less than a year old. It then analyzed the replies given to questions on depression and mental health issues.

    The team found that in 3.4% of the sampled households, or 118 homes, both mothers and fathers had been experiencing mental health issues at the same time. By extrapolating the rate to reflect the number of children being born in the country, the team estimated that the number of households with parents at risk of mental health issues reached approximately 30,000 annually. Meanwhile, 530 homes, or 15.1% of the total, showed signs that one parent is at risk of struggling with mental health.

    In households where the risks are high for both parents, many fathers work long hours -- 55 hours or more per week -- and mothers claim they lack sleep. Additionally, a trend was observed in which households with children aged between 6 and 12 months, when infants are more likely to be moving around independently, are at higher risk than those with children aged 6 months or younger.

    It is known that women can experience postpartum depression after giving birth due to factors including changes in their physical condition and lifestyle, but with men gradually participating more in child care, the team says their risks of becoming unwell have also increased.

    The child health center's Department of Health Policy Chief Kenji Takehara told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Including workstyle reforms, support by experts needs to be provided to fathers, too."

    (Japanese original by Ayumu Iwasaki, Science & Environment News Department)

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