Parental Depression Associated With Increased Healthcare Utilization in Children, Adolescents

A family in the waiting room of a doctor's office.
A family in the waiting room of a doctor’s office.
A combination of factors may have been responsible for the association between parental depression and increased healthcare visits in their children, including shared genetic risks.

The findings of a study in BMJ Paediatrics Open describe the healthcare patterns of children of parents with depression, including increased utilization of inpatient and outpatient medical services.

The authors pulled electronic health records of 25,252 patients at a London healthcare provider from 2015 to 2016. Parents were defined as patients aged 18 to 55 years and were included if they had a diagnosis of depression as determined by health record codes. Children were sorted by ages 0 to 5, 6 to 10, and 11 to 15. The final analysis represented 6124 children living in 3373 households.

Outcomes included number of general practice, emergency department, and outpatient visits, plus instances of inpatient admission. Both increased parental healthcare utilization and depression were associated with an increased number of visits. For children with siblings, parental depression correlated with odds ratios of 1.41 (95% CI, 1.10-1.80) for emergency department visits, 1.47 (95% CI, 1.07-2.03) for inpatient admissions, and 1.67 (95% CI, 1.32-2.11) for outpatient appointments. No significant difference was identified between children with or without siblings.

The study was limited by the possibility of area-specific phenomena and the use of patient addresses to define individual family units, which might have led to mislabeled parent-child pairs.

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A combination of factors may have been responsible for this association, including shared genetic risks. Research has suggested that parents experiencing depression may have increased anxiety about their children’s health and may thus be more likely to seek pediatric care. Additionally, parental depression can also be a consequence of long-term illness in children.

According to the authors, the findings suggested that a “holistic assessment of family needs” would be helpful to children of parents with depression. “Our research demonstrates the utility of the household linkage and its clinical relevance.”


Dreyer K, Williamson RAP, Hargreaves DS, Rosen R, Deeny SR. Associations between parental mental health and other family factors and healthcare utilisation among children and young people: a retrospective, cross-sectional study of linked healthcare data. BMJ Paediatrics Open. 2018;2:e000266.