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Dad’s Depression Affects Emotional State and Behavior of Children

Depression in Men is Underrecognized

Depression among men is less common than women, but there are still more than 6 million in the United States who are diagnosed each year. And as with women, depression disrupts relationships, including that with children, which then in turn affects the kids’ emotional state and behavior.

Michael Weitzman MD, of the New York University School of Medicine, and colleagues analyzed a nationally-representative sample of almost 22,000 children, ages 5 to 17, which lived in a two-parent household (mother and father). Depressive symptoms, assessed with the Patient Health Questionnaire-2, were seen in 5% of mothers and in 3% of fathers. In 2% of the cases, both parents were depressed.

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The behavior and emotional state of the children within the household were rated by one of the caregivers, most often the mother. These were scored by severity of difficulty across 13 categories, such as “getting along with other kids” and “staying out of trouble.”
As expected, when Mom was depressed, the proportion of children with more behavioral and emotional trouble was found to be 19.9%. This is likely because mothers tend to spend more time with the children, the researchers noted.

However, Dad’s influence should not be discounted says Weitzman. Over 15% of children with fathers who were depressed showed behavior and emotional issues, making them 72% more likely to have trouble than children whose fathers did not have any signs of poor mental health. Boys, 12- to 17-year-olds, and white children with depressed dads had higher rates of emotional and behavioral problems than did girls, younger kids, and children of other ethnicities.

When both parents are depressed, the proportion of children with serious emotional or behavioral problems increases to 25%.

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"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 Dr. Weitzman, a professor of pediatric medicine. "These findings reinforce what we already assumed -- that fathers matter, too, and they matter quite a lot."

Now, it is possible that children's emotional or behavioral problems could lead to parental mental health problems, though the literature suggests it's usually the other way around, the researchers added. Genetics and family environment both play a role in the mental health of children.

Although depression occurs in men, it is often under-recognized because men display symptoms differently than women. While women show signs of fatigue and apathy, men are often irritable, aggressive or hostile when depressed. Men are also more likely to go untreated, because of the stereotype that they are supposed to “be strong” and that emotion is a “feminine trait.”

More than 80% of people with depression - both men and women – are successfully treated with a combination of antidepressant medication and psychotherapy, notes the National Institute of Mental Health. Men who are displaying symptoms of depression should seek help with family doctors, community mental health centers, or employee assistance programs.

Source reference:
Weitzman M, et al "Paternal depressive symptoms and child behavioral or emotional problems in the United States" Pediatrics 2011; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2010-3034.

Additional Resources include: WebMD, “Depression in Men”, accessed November 7, 2011