Parental Depression Linked to Poorer Academics in Children

Parental depression was associated with almost half a decile lower ranking in children's final grades.

Children of at least one biological parent with depression academically performed more poorly at the conclusion of required schooling, found research published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Whether the mother or father had depression, parental depression at any point was associated with nearly a half decile lower ranking in children’s final grades, found Hanyang Shen, MPH, MSc, of Drexel University School of Public Health in Philadelphia, and colleagues. The effect was slightly more pronounced in daughters of mothers with depression before the child’s birth or when daughters were ages 6 and 16.

The researchers analyzed final school grades of 1 124 162 children, born from 1984 to 1994 in Sweden, at the end of compulsory education. The sum of students’ 16 best subject grades in their last year comprised final grades. Shen’s team then compared this academic performance to diagnoses of depression in children’s biological parents using parents’ inpatient records from 1969 on and outpatient records from 2001 on.

Children whose mothers were depressed at any point before or during the children’s lives had grades placing them 0.8 deciles lower than their peers before accounting for confounders, and 0.45 deciles lower after adjustment. Among children of fathers depressed at any point, final grades were 0.73 deciles lower before adjustment and 0.40 deciles lower after adjustment. Associations were similar regardless of when parents were depressed — before or after children’s birth or during any age up to 16.

Adjusted findings considered children’s sex, birth year, birth order and whether the child was part of a multiple birth. Parental confounders included parent education levels, family income, parents’ birth countries, parents’ ages at the child’s birth, either parent’s alcohol abuse and whether the mother smoked during pregnancy.

Among this study’s strengths are its large population and the standardized measure of school performance, wrote Myrna M. Weissman, PhD, of Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry in New York, in an accompanying editorial. These findings match similar ones from the United States, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia, she noted.

“Numerous epidemiological studies around the world have shown that the onset and prevalence of depression are high, especially among women of child-bearing age, so parental depression is a problem of large proportion,” she wrote, adding that previous research has found improvement in children’s difficulties when mothers receive treatment for depression. “Depression in a parent is a modifiable risk factor because the parent’s symptoms can be treated,” she wrote.


Shen H, et al. Associations of Parental Depression With Child School Performance at Age 16 Years in Sweden. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016; doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.2917.

Weissman MM. Children of Depressed Parents—A Public Health Opportunity. Editorial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016; doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.2967.