Page last updated at 07:23 GMT, Saturday, 10 May 2008 08:23 UK

Depressed fathers 'hit learning'

Father and child
Depressed fathers may cut interaction with their child

Children whose fathers are depressed have smaller vocabularies than those who do not, a US study suggests.

But the Eastern Virginia Medical School study of 5,000 families found language development in children whose mothers had similar symptoms seemed unaffected.

Researchers said by the age of two, children with depressed fathers used 1.5 fewer words than the average of 29.

This could be because depressed fathers spent less time reading to their children, they wrote in New Scientist.

Men may not be likely to seek help for themselves but when other people who depend on them become affected, that may change the landscape
James Paulson
Eastern Virginia Medical School

The researchers, led by paediatric psychologist James Paulson, surveyed about 5,000 families.

When the children were nine months old, 14% of the mothers and 10% of the fathers were clinically depressed.

The researchers assessed the impact on language development by measuring what proportion of 50 common words the children were using at two years of age.

On average the children in the study were using 29 of the 50 words by the time they reached two.

'Significant difference'

However, those children whose fathers were depressed when they were nine months old used an average of 1.5 fewer words than those whose fathers were fine.

Dr Paulson said the difference might seem small, but when scaled up across a child's complete vocabulary it might make a significant difference.

In contrast, there was no difference in the size of the vocabulary of children whose mothers were depressed, and of those whose mothers were not.

The researchers found that depressed mothers did not reduce the amount of time they spent reading to their nine-month-old baby, but depressed fathers read on average 9% less than those who had no problem.

Dr Paulson, who presented the findings to a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, said he hoped the study would encourage depressed fathers to seek help.

He said: "Men may not be likely to seek help for themselves but when other people who depend on them become affected, that may change the landscape."

Ruth Coppard, a psychologist with an interest in child development, said depressed people tended to withdraw and go quiet, but that women often had no choice, but to continue with child care duties regardless.


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