Postnatal Paternal Depression Associated With Depression in Girls

Upset 3 months baby boy indoors
Upset 3 months baby boy indoors
Study showed an association between depression in fathers during the postnatal period and subsequent depression in girls at age 18 years.

The results of a long-term, community-based cohort study suggested a small but significant association between postnatal paternal depression symptoms and offspring depression symptoms at 18 years. The findings were published in JAMA Psychiatry.1

The transmission of depression from parent to child may be not just genetic, but environmental, with at least one study reporting “family history…and exposure to psychosocial stress” as strong risk factors.2 By examining 8 potential pathways, the authors of the current study hoped to identify specific environmental risks for offspring depression.

The authors identified 3176 father-offspring pairs from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children cohort study in England, including 1764 daughters and 1412 sons. Average paternal age at delivery was 29.6 years. Paternal symptoms of depression were self-reported as a continuous measure.

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The 8 transmission pathways examined included maternal depression at 8 weeks, maternal depression at 8 months, paternal depression at 8 months, couple conflict, paternal involvement, and in offspring, emotional, conduct, and hyperactivity problems.

The findings suggested that children of fathers with depressive symptoms were at increased risk for later depression, even after controlling for paternal age at delivery and level of education. The authors had previously reported that couple conflict mediated such an association; however, in this study, early behavioral issues appeared to be more important for children with depression.

Additionally, the authors had previously reported that, in early life, boys were more vulnerable to transmission than girls. In this longer study, they uncovered a risk for girls that appeared after puberty. The same did not hold true for adolescent boys.

The authors noted that the study experienced a demographic shift at 18-year follow-up, with continuing participants coming from relatively wealthier families. Another limitation was the use of self-report measures for paternal depression.

“Findings highlight the importance of recognizing and treating depression in fathers during the postnatal period and considering both parents when 1 parent presents with depression,” concluded the authors.


  1. Gutierrez-Galve L, Stein A, Hanington L, et al. Association of maternal and paternal depression in the postnatal period with offspring depression at 18 years [published online December 26, 2018]. JAMA Psychiatry. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.3667
  2. Thapar A, Collishaw S, Pine DS, Thapar AK. Depression in adolescence. Lancet. 2012;379(9820):1056-1067.