While the multiple negative consequences of maternal depression on a child’s mental health have been explored in study after study, until now, the implication of fathers’ depressive symptoms have not been evaluated in detail.
The effect of a parent’s depression on a child’s mental health is discussed in a study by NYU School of Medicine researchers in the online edition of Maternal and Child Health Journal.
In the study, researchers discuss child outcomes when either or both parents are depressed, and expand on the association between paternal depression and the previously undocumented role of unemployment.
In late 2011, Michael Weitzman, M.D. and his co-authors identified, for the first time ever, in a large and nationally representative sample, increased rates of mental health problems of children whose fathers had depressive symptoms.
In that paper, 6 percent of children with neither a mother or a father with depressive symptoms, 15 percent of those with a father, 20 percent of those with a mother, and 25 percent of children with both a mother and a father with depressive symptoms had evidence of emotional or behavioral problems.
“While the finding of increased rates of mental health problems among children whose fathers had depressive symptoms was not surprising in our earlier study, the fact that no prior large scale studies had investigated this issue is truly remarkable, as is the finding that one out of every four children with both a mother and a father with symptoms of depression have mental health problems” said Weitzman.
He also noted that the findings highlighted “the urgent need to recognize the roles of fathers in the lives of children and families in clinical and public policy formulation and implementation, to further explore ways in which the mental health of fathers influence the health and function of our nation’s children, and to structure our health and human services so as to identify and effectively treat fathers who are depressed or suffering from other mental health problems.
“A first step is to identify which of our nation’s fathers are at increased risk for depression, which is the main reason that we undertook the current study.”
In the current paper, using a large and nationally representative sample of households in the USA (7,247 households in which mothers, fathers and children lived), authors investigated characteristics of fathers that are independently associated with increased rates of depressive symptoms.
Overall, 6 percent of all fathers had scores suggesting that they were suffering from depressive symptoms.
Researchers determined certain live circumstances were related to the chance of paternal depression: living in poverty (1.5 times as common as not living in poverty); living with a child with special health care needs (1.4 times as common); living with a mother with depressive symptoms (5.75 times as common); poor paternal physical health (3.31 times as common) and unemployment (6.50 times as common).
While the findings of poverty, having a child with special health care needs, and living with a mother with depressive symptoms are not unexpected, the fact that fathers’ unemployment is by far the strongest predictor of depressive symptoms is a brand new, and unique finding with profound implications for the health and development of children in this time of extremely high rates of unemployment.
“The findings reported in the current paper demonstrate factors that could help identify fathers who might benefit from clinical screening for depression, and we believe the results are particularly salient given the current financial crisis and concurrent increase in unemployment in the USA” said Weitzman.
“Also of serious concern is the fact that living with a mother who herself has depressive symptoms is almost associated with almost as large an increased rate of paternal depressive symptoms as is paternal unemployment. Fathers play profoundly important roles in the lives of children and families, and are all too often forgotten in our efforts to help children.
“These new findings, we hope, will be useful to much needed efforts to develop strategies to identify and treat the very large number of fathers with depression.”