MONDAY, Nov. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Children of fathers who seem
depressed are more likely to show signs of behavioral and emotional
problems, although the nature of the link isn't clear, researchers
The study also suggests that kids whose parents both seem
depressed are at particularly high risk.
"This opens the door to a vast array of answerable but currently unanswered questions about the health and development of children growing up in households with depressed fathers," said study author Dr. Michael Weitzman, a professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine at New York University School of Medicine.
Plenty of studies have examined how mental problems in mothers
affect kids, especially in terms of postpartum depression, Weitzman
said. Scientists have even found signs that fathers can get
depressed after a child's birth. But there's been little research
into how the mental state of fathers may affect kids, he said.
That reflects a larger gap, he said. "Fathers get left out of
all sorts of policy and clinical deliberations about the well-being
In the new study, researchers examined the results of surveys of
nearly 22,000 U.S. children aged 5 to 17 and of their mothers and
fathers. The surveys were completed from 2004 to 2008.
The study authors looked for signs of depression based on the
answers, although none of the parents or children was diagnosed as
part of the survey.
The researchers found that 7.5 percent of the kids showed signs
of behavioral or emotional problems. Older kids (aged 12 to 17),
males, whites and those who lived with smokers had higher levels of
Twenty percent of those with mothers who appeared depressed
showed signs of depression themselves; the percentage was 16
percent for those whose fathers appeared depressed. The number
jumped to 25 percent if both parents appeared depressed, Weitzman
The numbers don't indicate why symptoms of depression in parents
and kids might be linked. It could have something to do with
depression, Weitzman said, or depressed parents might make kids
depressed. Another possibility is that depressed kids make
If the link is directly from parents to kids, some possible
reasons could include the inability of depressed parents "to
respond to a child's requests and needs in a consistently reliable
and empathic manner," said Dr. Rahil Briggs, an assistant professor
of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "Depressed
parents may also struggle to help their children regulate their own
emotions, which may lead to poor social emotional development."
Dr. Christopher Bellonci, a psychiatrist and assistant professor
at Tufts University School of Medicine, said the findings are
"consciousness-raising" because they point to how depressed males
don't necessarily suffer in isolation. "They remind us that when
you're working with depressed adult males you have to remember to
ask, 'Are they a parent? Who's watching out for the kids?'"
The study appears online and in the December issue of the
For more about
depression, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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