Depression in a parent is a common and potent risk factor for depression in the child. It is also associated with a range of adverse child health and educational outcomes, including poorer academic attainment.
Researchers from Swansea and Cardiff University analysed the association between maternal and paternal depression, and the timing of their depression (before or after the child’s birth) and outcomes for the child, including the incidence of child depression and poor educational attainment.
It is crucial to examine the timing of maternal and paternal depression and its effects on offspring outcomes because this has implications for prevention and early intervention.
The research team used data from the SAIL Databank, linking General Practitioner (GP), hospital and education records of young people (aged 0 to 30 years) in Wales The SAIL (Secure Anonymised Information Linkage) Databank contains anonymised health and administrative datasets on the Welsh population.
Findings from the study
- Results suggest that living with a parent with depression is detrimental to a child’s outcome.
- The risks of developing depression were highest in offspring exposed to maternal depression both before and after the child’s birth.
- The risks of failing school exams were highest in offspring exposed to maternal/ male depression before and after the child’s birth.
- Moving home (perhaps away from difficulty) was associated with less risk of depression in the child. However, house moves were also associated with children being less likely to achieve educational milestones, possibly through educational disruption.
- Overall, developing depression had stronger associations with maternal depression, but educational attainment had a stronger association with depression in the household’s male.
The study highlights that depression is an issue that impacts a family rather than an individual. Therefore, working closely with families where depression (particularly chronic depression) is present in either parent and treating parental depression to remission is likely to have long-term benefits for children’s mental health and educational attainment.
Professor Sinead Brophy, Director of the Centre for Population Health, said:
“Maternal and paternal depression are both risk factors for depression in children, so it is imperative to understand the prevalence of maternal and paternal mental illness among children and its implications for child health and educational outcomes for prevention and early intervention.”