Page last updated at 23:55 GMT, Sunday, 3 May 2009 00:55 UK

Fathers' depression 'harms young'

Father and daughter
Fathers' mental health problems can affect their children

Children whose fathers have mental health disorders are likely to have psychiatric or behavioural disorders themselves, researchers warn.

University of Oxford experts reviewed existing evidence and said, in the Lancet, there had been too much focus on mothers' mental health issues.

They said boys in particular could be affected if their father had depression or was an alcoholic.

Mental health campaigners said men often had problems seeking help.

Alcoholism

The Oxford team said it was not surprising much of researchers' emphasis had focused on mothers as, in most societies, it is mothers who provide the majority of childcare - particularly when children are very young.

But they said the role of men had been "underemphasised" and that they had more influence on their children's development than previously thought.

In addition, the peak age for men to be affected by psychiatric disorders is the same as the peak age for becoming a father - between 18 and 35.

In years gone by, if fathers were depressed and distant it may not have made much of an impact
Emily Wooster, Mind

Paternal depression during the postnatal period, measured at eight weeks after birth, has been associated with increasing the chance of the child subsequently developing behavioural and emotional problems from 10% to 20%.

Teenage offspring of depressed fathers also have an increased risk of various psychological problems, including depression and suicidal behaviour.

Around 2% of men are affected by generalised anxiety disorder, and children whose parents have anxiety disorders have a two-fold increased risk of developing such disorders themselves, researchers say.

Previous studies have also found links between a father's alcoholism and an increased risk of conduct disorders, where children behave aggressively and destructively and abuse substances - particularly in sons.

Paternal alcoholism is also associated with an increased risk of mood disorders, depressive symptoms, poor performance at school, low self-esteem and problems forming relationships.

Adolescents whose parents have bipolar disorder are up to 10 times more likely than adolescents with mentally healthy parents to develop bipolar disorder, and three to four times more likely to develop other psychiatric illness, research suggests.

'Nurturing role'

The Oxford team, led by psychiatrist Professor Paul Ramchandani, said more research was needed on how fathers' psychiatric disorders affect their children's development.

He said: "Fathers are more involved in child-rearing in countries including the UK than they used to be.

"In years gone by, if fathers were depressed and distant it may not have made much of an impact.

"We now need a more general understanding of what effects psychiatric problems in fathers can have on children."

Emily Wooster, policy and campaign manager for the mental health charity Mind, said: "Men's roles in bringing up children have changed significantly over the last century, with many dads now taking on an active 'nurturing role' so it's important that there is more research into the relationship between fathers' mental health problems and how these may affect their children.

"Mind has found that men often have difficulties coming forward and talking about their mental health problems, perhaps because of the way they are socialised into being 'strong, tough men' who can't show their emotions."

She said the charity was due to launch a campaign next week calling for "male-friendly" mental health services and better support for men.



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SEE ALSO
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Father's blues can blight babies
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Older fathers linked with bipolar
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