A study of 13,838 singleton children in 2-parent families showed an association between depressive symptoms in fathers and those in their adolescent offspring, an association independent of and not different in magnitude from the association of depressive symptoms in mothers and those in their adolescent children, according to an article published in Lancet Psychiatry.
Researchers included in their trial 6070 families living in Ireland who are part of an ongoing study, Growing Up in Ireland (GUI), and 7768 families who are part of the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), comprising children born in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. GUI examines 2 cohorts: infants examined at 9 months of age and children recruited at 9 years. The study authors examined data from the latter group for this trial. They collected data when the children entered GUI and when they reached 13 years of age.
MCS, similar to GUI, an ongoing study, included infants 9 to 11 months of age and collected data about them again at 5 later stages. The present study took information from MCS gathered when the children in that study reached 7 years and again when they reached 14 years of age.
The researchers measured adolescent depressive symptoms with the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire when the GUI cohort was 13 years old and when the MCS cohort reached age 14 years. This was done because the incidence of depression increases markedly at around 13 years of age, and about 75% of adults with depression remember that their mental health issues began in adolescence. They measured depressive symptoms in the parents with the 8-item version of the Centre for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale in the GUI, when children were a mean age of 9 years at recruitment and again when they were a mean age of 13 years, and with the 6-item version of the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, when the MCS children were a mean age of 7 years and later, when they were a mean age of 13 years. Both tests for the parents provide scores ranging from 0 to 24, with the higher scores indicating more severe depressive symptoms.
The researchers found a positive association between paternal and adolescent depressive symptoms. In GUI, each 3-point (1 SD) increase in the father’s depressive symptoms matched with a 0.35 of a Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire point increase in the adolescent’s depressive symptoms. In MCS, each 3-point (1 SD) increase in the father’s depressive symptoms matched with a 0.28 of a point increase in the adolescent’s depressive symptoms. There continued to be associations between paternal and adolescent depressive symptoms even after adjustment for maternal depressive symptoms and for other confounders. The association between paternal and adolescent depressive symptoms was stronger for female than for male offspring in the GUI cohort, but not in the MCS study group.
The researchers conclude that if their findings indicate a causal relationship between paternal, and also maternal, depressive symptoms and that of their adolescent children, it should be a priority to treat depression in both parents, as opposed to just the mother, which is often done now. They point to improvements in offspring mental health when mothers are treated and suggest there would be similar improvements from treating fathers, which warrants future study.
Lewis G, Neary M, Polek E, Flouri E, Lewis G. The association between paternal and adolescent depressive symptoms: evidence from two population-based cohorts [published online November 15, 2017]. Lancet Psychiatry. doi:10.1016/52215-0366(17)30408-X