Not really new, still depressing: Children by a depressed parent are more likely to develop depression and to do worse at school

Sometimes there aren’t enough studies to repeat a message: life can be very hard for children. One way to have a hard childhood is having to live with a parent suffering from depression. New research shows – again – the possible effects: those children are more likely to develop depression and to not achieve educational milestones. Supporting families is a key element in trying to make education more equal, imho.

From the press release:

Maternal depression is a known risk factor for depression in children and is associated with a range of adverse child health and educational outcomes including poorer academic attainment. To date, however, risk factors associated with paternal depression have been less well examined. Understanding the effects of timing of both maternal and paternal depression of offspring outcomes has implications for prevention and early intervention.

In the new study, Brophy and colleagues used data from the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) databank assembled as part of the Born in Wales Study funded by the Welsh Government. Information on children born in Wales from 1987 to 2018, as well as their mothers and fathers — or stable, adult male figure in the same household — was used in the study. Both parental and child diagnosis of depression was attained from general practitioner records in the SAIL databank.

Overall, 34.5% of mothers and 18% of fathers/stable men had a diagnosis of depression. In offspring, 4.34% of all children, 2.85% of boys, and 5.89% of girls were diagnosed with depression. Children were more likely to develop depression if their mother had depression before their birth (HR 1.32, 95% CI 1.21-1.43), after their birth (HR 2.00, 95% CI 1.96-2.05), or both before and after their birth (HR 2.25, 95% CI 2.15-2.35). The risk of depression was also increased when their father/stable man had depression before their birth (HR 1.44, 95% CI 1.18-1.74), after their birth (HR 1.66, 95% CI 1.58-1.74), or both before and after their birth (HR 1.47, 95% CI 1.25-1.73). In addition, the odds of achieving milestones at the end of primary school were significantly decreased if either parent had depression — for instance, the odds of passing Key Stage 3 (KS3) tests was 0.57 (95% CI 0.55-0.60) if a child’s mother had depression both before and after their birth and 0.56 (0.49-0.63) if their father/stable man had depression both before and after their birth. Other risk factors for children’s depression identified in the study included being female, their mother taking antidepressants and having no stable man in the household. The authors conclude that the impact of paternal depression requires more attention than has previously been given, and suggest that holistic approaches to whole family wellbeing and depression will help ensure positive outcomes for children.

The authors add: “Children who live with a parent (mum or dad) who has depression are more likely to also develop depression and not achieve as well in school, compared to children who live with a parent with treated depression. Working with families and treating parental depression (in dads as well as mums) is likely to have long-term benefits for children’s mental health and educational attainment. This has never been more important than after lockdown and COVID, as depression is contagious too.”

Abstract of the study:

Background
Maternal depression is a risk factor for depression in children, though the influence of paternal depression has been less well examined. We examined 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 incidence of child depression and poor educational attainment.

Methods
A linked routine data cohort study linking General Practitioner(GP), hospital and education records of young people (aged 0 to 30 years) in Wales. Parental and child diagnosis of depression was identified from GP data. Regression analysis examined the association of maternal and paternal depression with time to diagnosis of depression in the child and odds of attaining educational milestones.

Outcomes
In adjusted models, the relative risk of offspring developing depression was 1.22 if the mother had depression before the child was born, 1.55 if the mother had depression after the child was born and 1.73 if she had depression both before and after the child was born (chronic depression), compared to those were there was no maternal depression history. For achieving milestones at end of primary school, odds were 0.92, 0.88 and 0.79 respectively. Association of depression in the child was similar if the male living in the household had depression with risk ratios of 1.24 (before), 1.43 (after) and 1.27 (before and after) for child diagnosed depression and 0.85, 0.79 and 0.74 for achieving age 11 milestones.

Interpretation
Children who live with a parent who has depression are more likely to develop depression and not achieve educational milestones, compared to children who live with a parent who has a history of depression (but no active depression in child’s lifetime) and compared to those with no depression. This finding suggests that 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.

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