A study that will be published in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics shows that children whose fathers show signs of depression are 70 percent more likely to develop emotional or behavioral problems themselves.
The new research builds on earlier findings that show correlation between maternal depression and child depression. This is the first major study that examines paternal depression and its effect on children.
"For years we've been studying maternal depression and how it affects children, but the medical community has done a huge disservice by ignoring fathers in this research," said the study's lead author, Michael Weitzman, a professor of pediatric medicine at New York University, in New York. "These findings reinforce what we already assumed -- that fathers matter, too, and they matter quite a lot."
The situation is predictably worse if both parents are depressed. Just 6% of children with two mentally healthy parents have serious emotional or behavioral problems, such as feeling sad or nervous, acting out at school, or clashing with family and peers, the study found. But that proportion increases to 11% if the father is depressed, 19% if the mother is depressed and 25% if both parents are depressed -- a strikingly high number, Weitzman says.
Although the study doesn't prove that a parent's depression directly causes problems in children, rather than vice versa, previous research on mothers and children has clearly shown that it's generally mothers who influence kids' mental health, not the other way around.