(CBS/AP) CHICAGO - Sad dads are more likely to spank, and many are spanking even little kids. In fact, a new survey shows that about 40 percent of depressed fathers say they've spanked kids as young as one year old, versus just 13 percent of fathers who weren't depressed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against spanking children of any age, and studies have shown that kids who are spanked are at risk of being physically abused and becoming aggressive themselves.
The researchers said spanking who are only 1 is especially worrisome, because they could get injured and are unlikely to understand the link between their behavior and subsequent punishment.
The study - released online Monday in the journal Pediatrics - was based on data on 1,746 fathers in 16 large U.S. cities. Lead author Dr. Neal Davis said that was the most recent comprehensive data on the subject, and he believes it is relevant today. Depression among fathers is strongly tied to unemployment rates, which are higher now than a decade ago, he said.
Overall, 7 percent of dads had experienced recent major depression. Some likely had a history of depression, but in others it was probably tied to their children's birth, similar to postpartum depression in women, Davis said. A pediatrician now working in Murray, Utah, Davis did the research while at the University of Michigan.
Postpartum depression is common in women. By some estimates as many as 25 percent develop it shortly after childbirth. Severe cases have been linked with suicide and with deaths in children including several high-profile drownings.
Less is known about depression in new dads, said Dr. Craig Garfield, an assistant pediatrics professor at Northwestern University and co-author of a Pediatrics editorial.
Chris Illuminati, a Lawrenceville, N.J., writer and stay-at-home dad with a 1-year-old son, says he read postpartum brochures the pediatrician gave his wife during an office visit. He said he found himself silently answering yes to questions about symptoms.
Illuminati said he'd never experienced depression, but starting from the time his son was a few months old, he began feeling down, sleep-deprived, trapped and resentful toward a baby who slept fitfully and had disrupted his life.
The 33-year-old father stressed that he loves his little boy, and has never spanked him, but has felt the frustration that might lead others to do so.
"There have been times where I've wanted to, but I've pulled back," Illuminati said.
He said he had been finding ways to avoid his son once his wife got home from work, and realized he probably needed help. "I didn't know who to talk to. I felt like a wuss if I mentioned it to anyone," he said.
Blogging about fatherhood helped, he said, and his sadness has mostly subsided now that his son is older.
"It should be studied," Illuminati said. "The hardest part is going to be getting guys to talk about it...or even recognize it."