Depression in fathers and children linked, even in families not biologically related, study finds

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New research has revealed that adolescent depression and behavior problems are on the rise and paternal depression may be contributing to this increase, regardless of whether the fathers and children are genetically related.

The study was published in the journal, Development and Psychopathology, and conducted by investigators, Jenae Neiderhiser, PhD, of Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute and Alex Burt, PhD, professor of clinical science at Michigan State.

The researchers looked at naturally occurring variations in genetic relatedness between parents and their adolescent children in 720 families participating in the Nonshared Environment in Adolescent Development (NEAD) study, with over half of those families containing a child-rearing stepparent.

Mothers, fathers, and children each answered questions to measure symptoms of depression, behaviors, and parent-child conflict. The researchers then examined the association between paternal depression symptoms and child behavioral symptoms in a series of models. In their observations, they found that paternal depression was associated with adolescent depression and adolescent behavior problems regardless of whether the fathers and their children were genetically related.

“The results pointed squarely to the environmental transmission of depression and behaviors between fathers and children,” said Alex Burt, PhD, professor of clinical science at Michigan State. “Additionally, we continued to see these associations in a subset of ‘blended’ families in which the father was biologically related to one participating child but not to the other, which was an important confirmation of our results. We also found that much of this effect appeared to be a function of parent-child conflict. These kinds of findings add to the evidence that parent–child conflict plays a role as an environmental predictor of adolescent behaviors.”