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Health and wellness

Depression among fathers and their daughters is linked, study finds, amid new concern about postnatal mental health of men

  • The ‘small but significant’ risk applies only to daughters, not sons, researchers say
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 December, 2018, 2:48am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 December, 2018, 8:39pm

A girl is more at risk of developing mental health problems if her father has experienced postnatal depression, new research suggests.

A study of more than 3,000 families in the Bristol area in England found that one in 20 fathers experienced postnatal depression in the weeks after their child was born. Researchers found a link between men with the condition and their daughters experiencing depression by the age of 18.

The “small but significant” risk applied only to daughters. Sons were found to be unaffected, according to the study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

The survey, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, which has been running since 1991, looked at 3,176 father-and-child pairs.

The authors said it was unclear why girls might be more affected than boys at that age but that it could be linked to specific aspects of father-daughter relationships as girls went through adolescence.

They said the findings could have implications for perinatal services, which traditionally focus on identifying and treating postnatal depression in mothers.

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Paul Ramchandani, of the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, said: “Research from this study of families in Bristol has already shown that fathers can experience depression in the postnatal period as well as mothers.

“What is new in this paper is that we were able to follow up the young people from birth through to the age of 18, when they were interviewed about their own experience of depression.,” he said.

“Those young people whose fathers had been depressed back when they were born had an increased risk of depression at age 18 years.”

Ramchandani added that the team also looked at some of the ways in which depression in fathers might have affected children.

It appears that depression in fathers is linked [to] an increased level of stress in the whole family
Paul Ramchandani, of the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge

He said: “It appears that depression in fathers is linked [to] an increased level of stress in the whole family, and that this might be one way in which offspring may be affected.

“Whilst many children will not be affected by parental depression in this way, the findings of this study highlight the importance of providing appropriate help to fathers, as well as mothers.”

Mark Williams, the founder of the lobby group Fathers Reaching Out and a campaigner concerned with paternal depression, said: “In my experience of working with families it’s sometimes only the father who is suffering in silence. But sadly very few are asked about their mental health after becoming a parent.”

Previous research by the same academics found postnatal depression in fathers was linked to behavioural and emotional problems in their offspring at the ages of three-and-a-half and seven.

The researchers believed this might be due to paternal depression causing conflict between partners and prompting maternal depression.