Depression In Fathers Linked To Behavioral Problems In Kids
January 8, 2013

Depression In Fathers During Pregnancy Linked To Behavioral Problems In Kids

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

A recent study found that depression in fathers during their partners' pregnancy can affect the emotional and behavioral development of their unborn children later in life.

The findings were recently published in the journal Pediatrics and the researchers examined the effect on children who were 36 months old. They took data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study, which included 31,663 children. The team of investigators also used information on the fathers´ mental health obtained from self-reporting using the Hopkins Symptom Checklist during the 17th or 18th week of gestation. The mothers´ pre- and postnatal mental health along with the child´s socioemotional and behavioral development were taken from parent-report questionnaires, which were filled out about half-way through the pregnancy.

“This study suggests that some risk of future child emotional, behavioral, and social problems can be identified during pregnancy,” Anne Lise Kvalevaag, a researcher and doctoral candidate at the University of Bergen, told WebMD.

The results of the study showed that three percent of the fathers suffered from high levels of psychological distress, and the children of these fathers had higher levels of emotional and behavioral issues even after the researchers adjusted the results for other potential factors like age, income and marital status.

The researchers said that there could be a number of mechanisms that explain this association between the fathers´ psychological distress and the emotional problems of their children. For one, the prenatal affect of psychological distress on fathers could be genetically transmitted to children. Another theory is that depression in fathers could negatively impact the mental health of their expectant partners and lead to negative effects on the child. And a third possible explanation is simply that fathers who were depressed during the pregnancy also tended to struggled with depression after their children were born.

“We found small but consistent prospective associations between expectant fathers´ psychological distress and their children´s subsequent socioemotional and behavioral development,” wrote the researchers in the paper.

“Fathers who have mental health difficulties during the prenatal period are likely to continue to have those difficulties during the child´s infancy, which may directly affect young children´s development,” commented Elizabeth Harvey, a psychologist who serves at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and recently published an article on the connection between children behavioral problems with early fathering in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

The study is especially helpful for clinicians and policy makers who are interested in healthcare planning since the results of the study show that pregnancy is an optimum period for preventive intervention.

"For parents and physicians, the message should be clear," noted James Paulson, an associate professor of psychology at Virginia´s Old Dominion University. "We need to be aware of depression [in] both parents from the time a pregnancy is realized. This study suggests that physicians should screen for depression early and often, and make the appropriate referral as soon as it's detected."

The scientists also believe that further studies are needed to delve deeper into this topic and more thoroughly explore the link between gestational depression in parents and sociobehaviorial problems in their children.

“Longitudinal population-based studies of fathers and children, with or without psychological distress, are needed to further explore these associations and the role of mediating or moderating factors for the associations,” concluded the researchers in the article.