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Fewer Behavior Problems When Dad is Involved 

 

A recent study reported in Science Daily (August 15, 2007) found that even if the mother is depressed, when fathers are actively engaged in family life, children are much less likely to engage in behavior problems according to a researcher from St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri. 

It is a well-recognized phenomenon that when mothers are depressed there is a much higher risk among children of such behavior problems as anxiety, depression, aggression, and hyperactivity.  The report found that during these times, when fathers are actively engaged in family life and has positive relationships with his children, they are much less likely to experience these behavior problems.This 10-year population based study, recently reported in the July issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine may be the first to examine the fatherís role in a family where the mother is depressed. . The St. Louis University principal researcher Jen Jen Chang Ph.D, assistant professor of community health in epidemiology at the St. Louis University School of Public Health concluded that "my study corroborates findings of previous research that a child is at increased risk of problem behaviors when the mother is depressed."  She went on to state that "But once we factored in a fatherís positive involvement, I observe that the adverse impact of the mother's depression was attenuated.  The father served as a buffer.  He may have engaged with children when the mother wasnít available due to her illness." 

In order to determine the involvement of the fathers, children 10 years old and older were asked how often their father talked over important decisions with them; whether he listened to their side of an argument; whether he knew where they were when not at home; whether their father missed events or activities that were important to them; and how close they felt to their father. 

 

The unique quality of Chang's research is not only that it provided insight into the father's role in the household of a depressed mother, but also because of its longitudinal nature in which it followed children into adolescence with multiple assessments.  She accessed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth which is a government funded study of ethnically and economically diverse men and women and their experiences in the labor market.  This study contained important information about the biological children of these women and men, including the social and behavioral functioning of each child.  It included 6552 child/mother pairs and assessed behavior problems every two years. 

Chang commented that some of the important implications for intervention based upon her results are that; "I would advocate for health professionals to educate parents, specifically fathers, to be more involved with their children when their wives are diagnosed with depression.  Mothers play an important role in a child's life.  When she's mentally ill, the child is going to have difficulty, the whole family suffers.  Fathers are in a position to negate that but may need health professionalís guidance." 

The researcher went on to state that her study was actually inspired by her own family experiences in which her sister suffered from mental illness, and witnessed the impact and difficulty on her sister and the larger extended family.  She stated that; ďMy research has become a personal quest and I hope it will bring more focus to the issue of maternal depression.Ē  She concluded that "Healthcare professionals must do a better job of screening for this debilitating and under-diagnosed illness.Ē 

She next plans to study the effect of a mother's depression on the risk of a child developing a substance-abuse problem, and whether a fatherís involvement may also reduce the risk in those circumstances as well.  

Information adapted from a August 15, 2007 research report from Science Daily

Additional information and webpage by Paul Susic MA Licensed Psychologist Ph.D Candidate (Health Psychology  

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