Study shows impact of emotionally healthy fathers when mothers' poor mental health affects children


CINCINNATI A new Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center study points to the important role fathers play in their children's emotional and behavioral health.

The study shows that a father in good mental health can substantially reduce the negative influence of a mother's poor mental health on a child's behavioral and emotional well-being.

"If a mother and father are depressed, the odds that a child will have behavioral or emotional problems go up eight-fold," according to Robert S. Kahn, M.D., M.P.H., a physician/researcher in the Division of General and Community Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's and the study's lead author. "The risk is less elevated if only the mother reported poorer mental health and not elevated at all if only the father reported poorer mental health."

The study, published in the August issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, is one of the first and largest studies to examine the joint effects of mothers' and fathers' mental health symptoms.

The researchers examined data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics - a national, longitudinal survey of families of 822 children between the ages of 3 and 12 who were living with both parents. The survey included a validated screen for serious adult mental illness, including depression and anxiety disorders. Parents with scores in the upper 25 percent were considered to be in poorer mental health.

The researchers also found that when a mother and father have poor mental health, the influence on a child's behavioral problems is particularly strong for boys.

"Many studies have shown that poor maternal mental health has negative impacts on their children's behavior and emotional health," according to Robert C. Whitaker, M.D., study co-author who is formerly of Cincinnati Children's and is currently a senior fellow at Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. "Rarely have studies used information about the mental health of both parents to assess outcomes in their children. This study suggests that what happens to a child's children's well-being when their mothers suffer mental health problems depends on whether the father is healthy."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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