It is clear that postnatal maternal depression can impair maternal care and may be associated with delayed social, behavioral, cognitive, and physical development in growing children. There also is evidence that adolescent children of depressed fathers are likelier to experience psychopathology. This longitudinal cohort study, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), postulated that paternal depression postnatally would be associated with a heightened risk of behavioral and emotional problems at age 3.5 years. Participants included 13,351 mothers and 12,884 fathers, all of them evaluated 8 weeks postnatally using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). The fathers were again assessed when their children were 21 months old. The Ruttter revised preschool scales served to measure children’s emotional and behavioral development. Relevant information was available for 8431 fathers, 11,833 mothers, and 10,024 children.
The likelihood of remaining in the study after 42 months was lessened by a high degree of symptomatic depression in mothers but not in fathers. EPDS scores for mothers and fathers correlated to a significant degree. Paternal depression correlated closely with higher total problem scores on the Rutter preschool scales. Emotional, conduct, and hyperactivity scores exhibited this association but prosocial behavior scores did not. Significant associations remained after adjusting for social class, degree of education, and maternal depression. Controlling for paternal depression at 21 months postnatally, postnatal paternal depression correlated with later conduct problems and also with hyperactivity. Maternal depression was associated with increased total scores on the Rutter preschool scales. The association between paternal depression and later behavioral problems was stronger in boys than in girls. Paternal depression correlated only with increased problems in boys.
Apart from postpartum maternal depression, paternal depression in the postnatal period is associated with a higher risk of behavioral problems at age 3.5 years. It seems likely that effective interventions for paternal depression would lessen its adverse effects on subsequent childhood development, particularly in boys.
University of Oxford, Department of Psychiatry, Wameford Hospital, Headington, Oxford, U.K.; Academic Unit of Psychiatry and Department of Community Based Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, U.K.; and Department of Psychiatry, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York