Researchers say they’ve gained new insight into possible links between paternal depression after birth and depression in the fathers’ offspring at age 18 years. In girls, the depression risk seems to rise if their mothers also were depressed shortly after birth and if the girls show conduct problems at age 42 months, reported Leticia Gutiérrez-Galve, PhD, and her associates.
Previous research has linked postnatal depression in less-educated mothers and fathers to a higher risk of depression in children at the age of 18 years.
For the new study, Dr. Gutiérrez-Galve and her associates analyzed data about father-child pairs from the. The project, also known as , has tracked thousands of British children born in 1991 and 1992 and their parents. In a subset of 3,165 father-child pairs, the researchers found that the adolescent offspring were more likely to be depressed at age 18 years if their fathers were depressed at 8 weeks after birth (odds ratio, 1.52; 95% confidence interval, 0.78-2.98).
Another analysis tracked 3,176 father-child pairs. In girls, they found two factors mediated the risk of depression among those whose fathers were depressed postnatally: maternal depression at 8 months after birth and conduct problems of the child at age 42 months. “The mediating effect of maternal depression at 8 months explains one-fifth of the total association of paternal depression in the postnatal period with offspring depression, and conduct problems at age 3.5 years explains almost one-tenth of this association,” Dr. Gutiérrez-Galve and her associates wrote. Those factors did not boost the risk of depression in boys. In addition, they found that two other factors – couple conflict and paternal involvement – did not play mediation roles.
The findings on the possible effects of paternal depression on offspring depression at age 18 years contrast with the potential influence of maternal depression. The link between maternal depression and depression in children “may be better explained by other factors, including the association of depression with mother-infant interaction, genetic loading, and transmission of negative cognitions,” said Dr. Gutiérrez-Galve and her associates.
They cited several limitations. One is that paternal depression was assessed not by a diagnostic interview but by self-report. As a strength of the study, Dr. Gutiérrez-Galve cited the large sample size. Also, the first measure of paternal depression was taken 18 years earlier than the offspring depression measure, making reverse causality implausible, they wrote.
The study was funded by the U.K. Medical Research Council/Wellcome Trust and the University Hospitals Bristol (England) National Health Service Foundation Trust. The University of Bristol provided core support for the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. One of the study authors disclosed funding from the National Institute of Health Research U.K. and the LEGO Foundation. No other disclosures were reported.
SOURCE: Gutiérrez-Galve L et al. JAMA Psychiatry. 2018 Dec 26. .