Does Paternal Postnatal Depression Increase Depression Risk in the Child?

New research from the UK has found there may be a link between fathers and daughters in terms of depression risk.  Now, it is important to note that this was not a blanket statement about all types of depression. Rather, the research indicates that fathers who experience postnatal depression are more likely to have daughters who suffer from depression in their teenage years.  

To reach these findings, the team looked at 3,176 families, investigating the potential link between paternal depression beginning at eight weeks after the child’s birth and that child’s risk of depression at the age of 18.  In addition to these factors, the researchers also considered other variables like the mother’s risk or history with depression, both parent’s involvement in the child’s life, and conflict between the two parents, as well as the potential for behavioral problems and hyperactivity of the child at 3.5 years of age. 

The team—which consisted of researchers from University College London, the University of Bristol, Imperial College London, and the University of Oxford—report that the study showed a “small but significant” increased risk for depression in girls at the age of 18 when they had fathers who experienced depression soon after they were born. They also made sure to note that there was no indication of any such link between fathers and sons. 

Of course, while the researchers may have found a significant—if not slight—association, they still do not understand this association. Indeed, it is not yet clear why girls, around this particular age of 18, might be affected by fathers who had suffered paternal postnatal depression. The researchers suggest, perhaps, depression in either parent could be disruptive to an otherwise healthy family life. Similarly, depression among either parent could increase stress levels for everyone in the family.  Both disruptions and stress could cause parents and children to react in otherwise unhealthy or, at least, abnormal ways. 

Study co-author, Professor Paul Ramchandi reminds, however, that we already knew there was an association between these two things, from previous research.  What this research does, though, is provide an opportunity to track these children over a longer period of time.  

He further notes, “We were also able to look at some of the ways in which depression in fathers might have affected children. It appears that depression in fathers is linked with an increased level of stress in the whole family, and that this might be one way in which offspring may be affected.”

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