Study Shows Links Between Dad's Post-Natal Depression And Teenage Mental Health

Fathers who suffer from post-natal depression are more likely to have depressed teenage daughters a new study shows.
Jessica Miley

New research shows a link between postnatal depression in fathers and their teenage daughters. While more commonly associated with mothers, postnatal depression can also affect fathers, with around one in 20 new fathers suffered from symptoms of depression in the weeks after a new baby is born. 

New research from academics from the University of College London, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and the University of Bristol show that fathers have a significant effect on the mental health of their daughters.

"There's a common misconception that mothers are more responsible for their children's mental health, while fathers are less influential - we found that the link between parent and teen depression is not related to gender," said the study's lead author, Dr. Gemma Lewis (UCL Psychiatry). 

"Family-focused interventions to prevent depression often focus more on mothers, but our findings suggest we should be just as focused on fathers," she said. The research was conducted using two large longitudinal studies of children: Growing up in Ireland, and the Millennium Cohort Study in England and Wales.

Small but serious link discovered

Data from 6070 and 7768 families from each of the studies was able to be used. First parents were assessed on their depressive symptoms using a questionnaire when the children were 9 and 7 years. Then adolescent depressive symptoms were assessed when the children were 13 and 14 years old. 

The study samples were population-based which means it included people who experienced depressive symptoms without seeking treatment.

The study found that ‘for every 3-point (one standard deviation) increase on the Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (MFQ; a commonly-used measure of depressive symptoms) on the part of fathers, there was an associated 0.2-point increase in the adolescent's MFQ score. 

Study urges for men to seek treatment when required

The findings were replicated in both independent study samples. These scores were calculated after adjustment for maternal depression, family income, and parental alcohol use.

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The researchers observed that the marked increase in depressive symptoms at the beginning of adolescence suggests must be taken seriously. And that understanding the symptoms early on can be used to prevent or treat depression later on. 

"Men are less likely to seek treatment for depression. If you're a father who hasn't sought treatment for your depression, it could have an impact on your child. We hope that our findings could encourage men who experience depressive symptoms to speak to their doctor about it," said Dr. Lewis.

This was the first study that looked at the links between parental depression and adolescent depression. 

Previous studies had only identified the connection between parental depression and poor behavioral and emotional outcomes in their children.

"The mental health of both parents should be a priority for preventing depression among adolescents. There has been far too much emphasis on mothers but fathers are important as well," said the study's senior author, Professor Glyn Lewis (UCL Psychiatry).

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