Children of depressed moms do better when dad is involved

August 14, 2007

Children whose mothers are depressed are less likely to develop problem behaviors if their fathers are actively engaged in family life, a Saint Louis University researcher finds.

It is well documented that children living in homes with depressed mothers are at increased risk of developing problems such as aggression, hyperactivity, depression and anxiety. However, an involved father – one who has a positive relationship with his children – may reduce the risk of those behaviors.

The 10-year, population-based study published in the July issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, is the first to examine a father’s role in a household with a depressed mother.

“My study corroborates findings from previous research that a child is at increased risk of problem behaviors when the mother is depressed,” said Jen Jen Chang, Ph.D., assistant professor of community health in epidemiology at the Saint Louis University School of Public Health and principal investigator.

“But once we factored in a father’s positive involvement, I observed that the adverse impact of the mother’s depression was attenuated. The father served as a buffer. He may have engaged with the children when the mother wasn’t available due to her illness.”

The level of a father’s involvement was based on questions given to children age 10 and older. Investigators asked the children how often their father talked over important decisions with them; whether he listened to their side of an argument; whether he knew where they were when not at home; whether their father missed events or activities that were important to them; and how close they felt to their father.

Chang’s study is unprecedented not only because it examined a father’s role in a household with a depressed mother but because it followed the children with multiple assessments throughout childhood and adolescence in a continuous context.

Her results drew on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), an ongoing government-funded study of ethnically and economically diverse men and women and their labor market experiences. The NLSY contains detailed information about the biological children of these men and women, including each child’s behavioral and social functioning. Chang’s sample included 6,552 mother/child pairs. Child behavior problems were assessed every two years.

Chang said results of her study have important implications for intervention.

“I would advocate for health professionals to educate parents, specifically fathers, to be more involved with their children when their wives are diagnosed with depression. Mothers play an important role in a child’s life. When she’s mentally ill, the child is going to have difficulty, the whole family suffers. Fathers are in a position to negate that but may need a health professional’s guidance.”

Chang said her study was inspired by her family experience. Her sister suffered from mental illness and Chang witnessed how difficult the illness was on her sister, her family and her sister’s family.

“My research has become a personal quest and I hope it will bring more focus to the issue of maternal depression,” she said. “Health care professionals must do a better job of screening for this debilitating and under-diagnosed illness.”

Chang next plans to study the effect of a mother’s depression on a child’s risk of substance abuse and whether a father’s positive involvement in a child’s life may reduce this risk.

Source: Saint Louis University

Explore further: From a novel support group to a book, learning from seven widowed fathers

Related Stories

From a novel support group to a book, learning from seven widowed fathers

January 16, 2018
It was a seemingly unremarkable decision that started UNC Lineberger's Donald Rosenstein, MD, and Justin Yopp, PhD, on a rather remarkable journey.

Epileptic seizures and depression may share a common genetic cause, study suggests

January 10, 2018
From the time of Hippocrates, physicians have suspected a link between epilepsy and depression. Now, for the first time, scientists at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Columbia University have found evidence that seizures ...

Teenage depression linked to father's depression

November 15, 2017
Adolescents whose fathers have depressive symptoms are more likely to experience symptoms of depression themselves, finds a new study led by UCL researchers.

Father's rejection may increase child's social anxiety, loneliness

December 13, 2017
Healthy relationships with their parents are vital for adolescents' development and well-being, according to Penn State researchers who say rejection from fathers may lead to increases in social anxiety and loneliness.

Jalisco mutation, rare strain of Alzheimer's affecting people in their 40s

December 15, 2017
Freddi Segal-Gidan, known as "Dr. Freddi" to her patients, talks softly as she walks with an Alzheimer's patient.

Study shows teens' bonds with parents impact future parenting

October 20, 2017
New research by Deakin University and the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) has put a spotlight on how adolescent girls' relationships with their parents can later affect their bonding experience with their own ...

Recommended for you

Best of Last Year—The top Medical Xpress articles of 2017

December 20, 2017
It was a good year for medical research as a team at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, found that dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain. Any exercise helps, the team found, but dancing ...

Pickled in 'cognac', Chopin's heart gives up its secrets

November 26, 2017
The heart of Frederic Chopin, among the world's most cherished musical virtuosos, may finally have given up the cause of his untimely death.

Sugar industry withheld evidence of sucrose's health effects nearly 50 years ago

November 21, 2017
A U.S. sugar industry trade group appears to have pulled the plug on a study that was producing animal evidence linking sucrose to disease nearly 50 years ago, researchers argue in a paper publishing on November 21 in the ...

Female researchers pay more attention to sex and gender in medicine

November 7, 2017
When women participate in a medical research paper, that research is more likely to take into account the differences between the way men and women react to diseases and treatments, according to a new study by Stanford researchers.

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.