Study says: Parental depression negatively affects children’s school performance

A new study has found that when parents are diagnosed with depression, it can have a significant negative impact on their children’s performance at school. The results of this study is not really surprising if you have been following this topic for a while. We have known the possible negative effects e.g. of a divorce on a child’s performance. Still it’s important to bare in mind when one of your pupils is in this situation.

Disclaimer: this time I wasn’t able to read the actual study as I didn’t have access (grmbl…). While there is written in the abstract that linear regression models were used adjusted for various child and parent characteristics, I don’t know which characteristics.

From the press release:

Researchers at Drexel University led a team including faculty from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and the University of Bristol in England in a cohort study of more than a million children born from 1984 until 1994 in Sweden. Using computerized data registers, the scientists linked parents’ depression diagnoses with their children’s final grades at age 16, when compulsory schooling ends in Sweden.

The research indicated that children whose mothers had been diagnosed with depression are likely to achieve grades that are 4.5 percentage points lower than peers whose mothers had not been diagnosed with depression. For children whose fathers were diagnosed with depression, the difference is a negative four percentage points.

Put into other terms, when compared with a student who achieved a 90 percent, a student whose mother or father had been diagnosed with depression would be more likely to achieve a score in the 85-86 percent range.

The magnitude of this effect was similar to the difference in school performance between children in low versus high-income families, but was smaller than the difference for low versus high maternal education (low family income: -3.6 percentage points; low maternal education -16.2 percentage points).

How well a student does in school has a large bearing on future job and income opportunities, which has heavy public health implications, explained Félice Lê-Scherban, PhD, assistant professor in the Dornsife School of Public Health. On average in the United States, she said, an adult without a high school degree earns half as much as one of their peers with a college degree and also has a life expectancy that is about 10 years lower.

“Anything that creates an uneven playing field for children in terms of their education can potentially have strong implications for health inequities down the road,” Lê-Scherban said.

Some differences along gender lines were observed in the study. Although results were largely similar for maternal and paternal depression, analysis found that episodes of depression in mothers when their children were 11-16 years old appeared to have a larger effect on girls than boys. Girls scored 5.1 percentage points lower than their peers on final grades at 16 years old when that factor was taken into account. Boys, meanwhile, only scored 3.4 percentage points lower.

Brian Lee, PhD, associate professor in the Dornsife School of Public Health, said there were gender differences in the study’s numbers, but didn’t want to lose focus of the problem parental depression presents as a whole.

“Our study — as well as many others — supports that both maternal and paternal depression may independently and negatively influence child development,” Lee said. “There are many notable sex differences in depression, but, rather than comparing maternal versus paternal depression, we should recognize that parental depression can have adverse consequences not just for the parents but also for their children.”

Depression diagnoses in a parent at any time during the child’s first 16 years were determined to have some effect on the child’s school performance. Even diagnoses of depression that came before the child’s birth were linked to poorer school performance. The study posited that it could be attributed to parents and children sharing the same genes and the possibility of passing on a disposition for depression.

Abstract of the study:

Importance  Depression is a common cause of morbidity and disability worldwide. Parental depression is associated with early-life child neurodevelopmental, behavioral, emotional, mental, and social problems. More studies are needed to explore the link between parental depression and long-term child outcomes.

Objective  To examine the associations of parental depression with child school performance at the end of compulsory education (approximately age 16 years).

Design, Setting, and Participants  Parental depression diagnoses (based on the International Classification of Diseases, Eighth Revision [ICD-8], International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision [ICD-9], and the International Statistical Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision [ICD-10]) in inpatient records from 1969 onward, outpatient records beginning in 2001, and school grades at the end of compulsory education were collected for all children born from 1984 to 1994 in Sweden. The final analytic sample size was 1 124 162 biological children. We examined the associations of parental depression during different periods (before birth, after birth, and during child ages 1-5, 6-10, and 11-16 years, as well as any time before the child’s final year of compulsory schooling) with the final school grades. Linear regression models adjusted for various child and parent characteristics. The dates of the analysis were January to November 2015.

Main Outcome and Measure  Decile of school grades at the end of compulsory education (range, 1-10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest).

Results  The study cohort comprised 1 124 162 children, of whom 48.9% were female. Maternal depression and paternal depression at any time before the final compulsory school year were associated with worse school performance. After covariate adjustment, these associations decreased to −0.45 (95% CI, −0.48 to −0.42) and −0.40 (−0.43 to −0.37) lower deciles, respectively. These effect sizes are similarly as large as the observed difference in school performance between the lowest and highest quintiles of family income but approximately one-third of the observed difference between maternal education of 9 or less vs more than 12 years. Both maternal depression and paternal depression at different periods (before birth, after birth, and during child ages 1-5, 6-10, and 11-16 years) generally were associated with worse school performance. Child sex modified the associations of maternal depression with school performance such that maternal depression had a larger negative influence on child school performance for girls compared with boys.

Conclusions and Relevance  Diagnoses of parental depression throughout a child’s life were associated with worse school performance at age 16 years. Our results suggest that diagnoses of parental depression may have a far-reaching effect on an important aspect of child development, with implications for future life course outcomes.

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Filed under At home, Education, Research

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