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Parents' depression may impact their children's mental health, study finds

Experts say educational development is impacted when parents struggle with mental health

Mother and daughter sitting on porch
Photo (c) shapecharge - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Swansea University explored how parents’ mental health can impact their children. According to the findings, children are more likely to experience mental health problems and not perform as well in school when parents struggle with depression. 

“Children who live with a parent (mum or dad) who has depression are more likely to also develop depression and not achieve as well in school, compared to children who live with a parent with treated depression,” the researchers wrote

“Working with families and treating parental depression (in dads as well as mums) is likely to have long-term benefits for children’s mental health and educational attainment. This has never been more important than after lockdown and COVID, as depression is contagious too.” 

The family impact of depression

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from infants enrolled in the Secure Anonymized Information Linkage (SAIL) database who were born between 1987 and 2018. The team looked at the participants’ and parents’ medical records to determine the long-term impacts of mental health outcomes. 

The researchers learned that having a parent who was depressed was linked with two important risk factors: a higher risk of children developing depression and a higher risk of not meeting academic milestones. The study showed that young girls were more likely than young boys to develop depression based on their parents’ mental health outcomes. This risk remained high regardless of which parent was struggling with depression. 

From an academic standpoint, children were less likely to pass academic assessments at the end of elementary school when they lived with depressed parents. Moving forward, the team hopes these findings help identify families who may be in need of mental health resources that could greatly benefit both parents and children. 

“This finding suggests that working closely with families where depression (particularly chronic depression) is present in either parent and treating parental depression to remission is likely to have long-term benefits for children’s mental health and educational alignment,” the researchers wrote. 

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