The study, published online on November 7th in the journal Pediatrics, explored the impact that depressed dads have on their children's mental well-being, noting that a majority of past studies have focused more heavily on the affect of maternal depression on youngsters.

In a nationally-representative review of more than 22,000 children ages 5 to 17 from two-parent households, lead researcher Michael Weitzman, MD, of the New York University Langone Medical Center, found that school-age children living with depressed fathers had higher rates of emotional and behavioral problems, independent of other factors.

Observing The Spread Of Mental Health Problems Within A Family

While a mother's mental illness contributes the most to her child's risk for developing psychological problems, the risk to a child having such problems due to living with a depressed father is 11 percent. And kids who have both parents experiencing depressive symptoms are most likely to suffer from emotional or behavioral issues, with 25 percent of children from such homes displaying psychological problems. Some of those problems include depression and anxiety, a mental disorder affecting one in eight children.

Researchers relied on the Columbia Impairment Scale (CIS) as the main outcome measure of child emotional and behavioral problems, using trained specialists to interview the parents about their children's behaviors in 13 areas. Specifically, parents were asked to rank how much of a problem their child was having with peers and siblings, at school, at home, and with homework, along with questions about their child's feelings, involvement in sports or hobbies and behavior overall. The scale ranged from 0, meaning their child had no problem at all with the specific issue, to 4, indicating a very large problem.

Maternal and paternal depression was assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire-2, a self-reported screening assessment. Noting the high rate of mental health problems among adults, study authors suggested that their findings are particularly concerning and underscore the importance of successful parental treatment.

Dr. Weitzman attributed the impact to the fact that depressed fathers parent differently than their non-depressed counterparts, showing irritation, rather than excitement, for example, in routine interactions with their children.

While men tend to suppress their emotions, react angrily or succumb to alcohol abuse, classic signs of depression are evident nonetheless. Those include fatigue and difficulty with concentration, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and self-hate, sleep problems or oversleeping, changes in appetite, irritability and reduced interest in activities previously enjoyed.

Impact Of Depression In Families

Depression is characterized by deep and prolonged feelings of sadness, with genetic and environmental factors playing a role in its development. Treatment may include medications that affect brain chemicals associated with mood changes, and psychotherapy to address feelings, thoughts and behaviors.

Disorders such as, anxiety and depression, often co-exist in children and are among the various emotional problems that may result from living with a depressed mother or father. Anxious and depressed school-age children and teens are most likely to engage in risky behavior, experience poor academic outcomes, and abuse drug and alcohol.

As the study suggests, improving treatments, reaching depressed fathers and providing support and outreach is particularly important in improving outcomes not only for depressed dads, but also for their children.

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Date of original publication:

Updated: November 21, 2016