A Longitudinal Study on the Impact of Parental Depression on Child Outcome

Lead Research Organisation: Medical Research Council

Abstract

Psychological disorder in parents and its effects on children has received considerable interest in research over the last two decades. Maternal depression is associated with adverse child behaviour, emotion and cognition. Depressed mothers typically interact with their children negatively and are less communicative with their children than are non-depressed mothers. Fathers are important in the social, emotional and cognitive development of their children, however there remains a dearth of literature on the effects of paternal depression on children. This cohort study will longitudinally assess the impact on child physical, developmental, behavioural and psychological outcomes of: early parental depression, with a specific focus on paternal depression; cumulative paternal and maternal depression; and chronic parental depression. The study will use The Health Improvement Network (THIN) data which are anonymised patient data collected from approximately 300 UK GP practices. A cohort of registered fathers, mothers and children will be identified from the records. Families will be followed up from three months prior to the birth of the child, at six months, at each year up to five years, and at eight and twelve years where data are available.

Technical Summary

Parental psychiatric disorder can have deleterious effects on child development. However, there has been a disproportionate emphasis on the impact of maternal depression on child outcome with relatively little research on the effects of depression in both parents or paternal depression on its own. Studies on maternal depression have highlighted adverse effects on child behaviour, emotion, sociability and cognitive development. Maternal depression can affect infant outcome as early as in the first postpartum months, and these effects can persist later into childhood affecting the social and cognitive development, and behaviour of the child.

This cohort study will longitudinally assess the impact on child physical, developmental, behavioural and psychological outcomes of: early parental depression, with a specific focus on paternal depression; cumulative paternal and maternal depression; and chronic parental depression.

The specific objectives of the study are to: 1) Determine the prevalence of paternal and maternal depression at three months prior to the birth, at six months after the birth, each year of follow-up up to five years and at eight and twelve years; 2) Make a comparative assessment of the impact of early paternal depression (during the year after the birth) on child outcomes at ages six months and one to five years and at eight and twelve years; 3) Compare the individual and combined effects of paternal depression and maternal depression on child outcomes at the ages outlined in 3); 4) Assess the effects of chronic paternal and maternal depression on child outcomes over a five-year and twelve-year period; and 5) Explore covariates such as couple relationship discord/breakdown, alcohol misuse, and depression treatment.

The study will use The Health Improvement Network (THIN) data, which are anonymised patient data collected from approximately 300 UK GP practices. A cohort of registered fathers, mothers and babies will be identified from the records. Families will be followed up from three months prior to the birth of the child, at six months, at each year up to five years, and at eight and twelve years where data are available.

The primary child outcomes will include: Physical complaints (e.g. headaches and abdominal pain), bedwetting, developmental problems (e.g. cognitive impairment, speech and language problems), behaviour problems (e.g. conduct disorders and hyperactivity), feeding problems, dyslexia, autism, and psychological problems (e.g. eating disorders, psychosis and depression). In addition, we will examine overall child consultation rates, referrals, and immunisation uptake in relation to parental depression.

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