Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Children of Dads With Psychological Distress May Be More Likely to Show Behavioral Problems

Children whose fathers are experiencing greater feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and depression may be more likely to display behavioral problems compared with children whose fathers are experiencing fewer of these symptoms, according to a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

“Our study … clearly suggests that interventions to prevent and treat psychological distress in fathers may have much benefit for their children,” wrote Eirini Flouri, Ph.D., of the University College London. “The first step in doing that is increasing awareness of the role that paternal psychological distress can have in child development.”

For the study, Flouri and colleagues analyzed data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), an ongoing population study of children born in 2000-2002 in the United Kingdom. As part of the MCS, parent-reported data were collected through interviews and questionnaires when children were 9 months, 3 years, 5 years, 7 years, 11 years, and 14 years. Beginning at the age 3 assessment, parents were asked to fill out the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire—which asks questions about a child’s emotions, interactions with peers, attention, and more over the past six months. Parents also completed the Kessler six-item psychological distress scale, which asks participants to reflect on distress over the past month, with such questions as “How often did you feel so depressed that nothing could cheer you up?” and “How often did you feel hopeless?”

A total of 13,442 children, whose mothers and fathers had valid data on psychological distress in at least one of these time points were included in the study sample.

After adjusting for maternal psychological distress, paternal psychological distress predicted all four domains of child problem behaviors examined (hyperactivity and conduct, emotional, and peer problems). High levels of paternal psychological distress predicted some problems (emotional symptoms and hyperactivity) more strongly in boys than girls, they added.

“[O]ur study showed that paternal psychological distress was related to several aspects of child problem behavior. … A priority for future studies should be to examine the mechanisms of this effect, which are likely both genetic and environmental,” they concluded.

For related information, see the American Journal of Psychiatry article “Offspring of Depressed Parents: 30 Years Later.”

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