Paternal Mental Health and Child Development
By: John Hoffman
Child development experts and researchers have expressed considerable interest and concern about the effects of mothers' mental health on children's development. Maternal depression, for example, is often cited as a risk factor for child outcomes. Much less attention has been paid to the impact fathers' mental health in children's lives, possibly because mothers have been seen as the primary shapers of children's mental health.
Review Article in The Lancet
In a 2009 review article, published in The Lancet, Paul Ramchandani and Lamprini Psychogiou, of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, reviewed research literature on the association between fathers' mental health and children's psychosocial development.
The authors concluded that paternal mental health should indeed be considered as a factor in child development, stating that, "most psychiatric disorders that affect fathers are associated with an increased risk of behavioural and emotional difficulties in their children, similar in magnitude to that due to maternal psychiatric disorders" (Ramchandani and Psychogiou 2009). They also noted that some findings suggest that boys may be more affected by paternal mental health than girls and that, compared to mothers, fathers mental health problems tend to be more associated with behaviour problems than emotional problems.
Fathers and Post Natal Depression
Ramchandani has also done research on post natal depression in fathers. In one of his studies he found that 4% of fathers rated high on the Edinburgh post natal depression scale, compared to 10% of mothers. Even so, paternal depression in the post natal period was significantly associated with psychiatric disorders in children seven years later, even after controlling for maternal depression (Ramchandani and Stein 2008).
It should be noted that the fact that a father or mother is dealing with mental illness does not necessarily lead to a poor developmental outcomes for children. Two earlier meta-analyses on the impact of father's mental health on children, both cited by Ramchandani, (Kane and Garber 2004) (Connell and Goodman 2002) concluded that the pooled effect size across studies -- that is the impact of paternal psychopathology on child outcomes -- was modest, although similar to the effect sizes found with respect to maternal mental health. Clearly, other risk and protective factors would affect the degree to which a parent's mental illness might or might not have a detrimental impact on a child's mental or physical health.
The take home message here is that medical and mental health professionals and policy makers should take fathers' mental health into account as a factor in child development. The authors concluded their article by suggesting that, "additional focus on the mental health of fathers is likely not only to benefit them, but to create an opportunity to help improve the lives of their children."
Ramchandani PG, Psychogiou L. Paternal psychiatric disorders and children's psychosocial development. The Lancet, Early Online Publication, 5 May 2009.
Ramchandani, PG, Stein A. Depression in men in the postnatal period and later child psychopathology: a population cohort study. Journal of the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry 2008 April; 47(4): 390-398.
Kane P, Garber J. The relations among depression in fathers,
children's psychopathology, and father-child conflict: a meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review 2004; 24: 339-60.
Connell AM, Goodman SH. The association between psychopathology in fathers versus mothers and children's
internalizing and externalizing behavior problems: a meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin 2002; 128: 746-73.