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Study explores link between paternal mental health and behavioral, cognitive problems in children

While the role of moms’ stress, anxiety and depression on children’s behavioral and cognitive development is well established, less is thought concerning the connection between fathers’ mental health and youngsters’s development.

Now, a team of researchers affiliated to different institutions across Quebec, Canada has examined if paternal anxious and depressive symptoms, measured during their partner’s pregnancy, and again six to eight years later, are related to children’s cognitive function and behavior. They studied this association in a community sample, where parental levels of self-reported anxious and depressive symptoms were variable and typically less severe than amongst a clinically diagnosed population.

“Our findings show that fathers’ reported symptoms of hysteria and/or depression weren’t related to worse behavioral and cognitive outcomes of their children, as previously present in other studies,” said the study’s first writer, Dr Sherri Lee Jones, a research associate at Douglas Research Centre at McGill University. “More specifically, barely higher levels of depressive symptoms reported by fathers when their partner was pregnant were related to fewer behavioral difficulties of their child at about six to eight years of age.” The article was published in Frontiers in Psychology.

What concerning the kids?

The primary assessments, made while pregnant and in infancy, included parental mental health and psychosocial measures, corresponding to the parents’ highest level of education, relationship satisfaction, and parenting perceptions. The second assessment was conducted on the critical age of six to eight years, when children are expected to make increased use of their behavioral and cognitive skills.

After accounting for the contribution of moms’ symptoms and parental education levels, we see that each parents matter within the cognitive-behavioral development of their children, nevertheless, potentially not in the identical ways.”

Dr Sherri Lee Jones, Research Associate, Douglas Research Centre, McGill University

Higher symptoms of hysteria and depression amongst moms were related to hostile childhood behavioral outcomes, each at birth and through middle-childhood. In contrast, barely higher, but still mild, depressive symptoms amongst fathers through the pregnancy were related to fewer behavioral and emotional difficulties of kids aged six to eight years. This included children having the ability to sit still for long periods of time, infrequently losing their temper, and having attention span, as reported by parents in questionnaires.

These barely higher symptoms of hysteria and depression amongst fathers when measured in childhood, and their associations with the kid’s performance on a standardized IQ test are in contrast to the patterns found amongst moms.

Understanding parental influence

“It’s unclear why we don’t find the same pattern for fathers as we do for moms; namely that the daddy’s reports of hysteria and depressive symptoms weren’t necessarily linked to poorer child outcomes,” Jones said. Not one of the aspects the researchers examined could explain the associations between the daddy’s mental health symptoms and the kid’s outcomes. More studies are needed to know the respective roles and the combined contribution of oldsters in child development, the researchers said.

They further identified that their findings are based on a community sample. Parents self-reported various levels of anxious and depressive symptoms and didn’t receive a diagnosis by a mental health skilled, which could mean that the findings might not be generalizable to oldsters who’re experiencing clinical levels of depression and anxiety.

“We imagine that this study will enhance our understanding of how a baby’s development is perhaps influenced by the relative and combined mental health symptoms of each the mother and father, which exhibit a whole lot of individual variability,” Jones concluded.


Journal reference:

Jones, S. L., et al. (2023). Longitudinal associations between paternal mental health and child behavior and cognition in middle childhood. Frontiers in Psychology.

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