Teens of fathers with clinical depression at heightened risk of mental health problems

Teenagers who have a father living with clinical depression are at heightened risk of developing a mental health problem.

This is according to the world’s first study of its kind linking clinical depression with fathers, instead of only with mothers as previously believed, published in the Lancet Psychiatry on November 15, 2017.

In the first large population study in this area, two groups comprising 13,838 participants, aged seven and nine years, and 13 and 14 years of age, respectively, undertook teenage mental health assessments across Ireland, Wales and England.

Children were queried about their emotional symptoms, while parents answered questions about their feelings, which were measured against a depression scale. The parental study, which was population-based, included adults who may have experienced symptoms of clinical depression, but had not pursued professional support.

According to lead study author and researcher from the Division of Psychiatry, University College of London, Dr Gemma Lewis, London, there is a common misconception that mothers are more responsible for their children’s mental health than their fathers.

“We found the link between parent and teen depression is not related to gender.

“Family-focused interventions to prevent depression often focus more on mothers, but our findings suggest we should be just as focused on fathers,” said Dr Lewis.

The research was based on the use of the Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (MFQ), a frequently-used tool for measuring clinical depression. The study found that for every three-point increase on the MFQ for the fathers, the child experienced a 0.2 increase in their individual score.

The study results are consistent with those found in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, in which the wellbeing of children aged five to six years (4,253) and eight to nine years (4,196) respectively, was shown to be worse in the presence of psychological distress of their fathers.

Those entering adolescence are thought to be at heightened risk of developing clinical depression, reinforcing the importance of understanding the risk factors in order to take steps to prevent development of the disorder.

Dr Lewis is urging fathers to ask for professional help should they be experiencing symptoms of clinical depression, to help minimise the impact of the disorder on their children.

“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,” Dr Lewis said.