Depression is common and frequently affects mothers and fathers of young children. Postnatal depression in mothers affects the quality of maternal care, and can lead to disturbances in their children's social, behavioural, cognitive and physical development. However, little is known about the effect of depression in fathers during the early years of a child's life.
Paul Ramchandani (University of Oxford, UK) and colleagues studied over 13,500 mothers, from the Bristol area of the UK, taking part in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Over 12,800 participants had partners. Mothers and fathers were assessed 8 weeks after the birth of their baby using a well-validated questionnaire for postnatal depression. The fathers were assessed again at 21 months. The researchers also measured the disturbance of the children's emotional and behavioural development at age 3.5 years from a questionnaire filled out by the mothers. They found that paternal depression was linked to adverse emotional and behavioural problems in children, particularly boys. The effects remained even after the researchers took into account maternal postnatal depression and later paternal depression.
Dr Ramchandani concludes: "Our findings indicate that paternal depression has a specific and persisting detrimental effect on their children's early behavioural and emotional development."