Fathers' mental health problems may take a toll on their children's psychological well-being, particularly that of their sons, a research review suggests.
The review, published online by The Lancet medical journal in 2004, found that when fathers had psychiatric conditions like major depression, drug or alcohol addiction, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), their children were at increased risk of mental health problems.
Boys seemed particularly vulnerable to the effects of their fathers' depression, the study found. Sons of alcoholic fathers were at increased risk of serious behavioural problems and substance abuse.
The findings may not sound surprising, but they shed light on the ways in which fathers' mental well-being affects their children -- a subject that has been much less studied than the role of mothers' mental health, according to the researchers.
"I think the main message is that mental health problems affecting fathers are important, partly because of the impact on the men themselves, but also because they can impact on families, including children," said lead researcher Dr Paul Ramchandani, of the University of Oxford in the UK.
Up to 6% of men depressed
Men are generally less likely than women to seek help for their mental health problems, Ramchandani said, but it is important that they do so.
An estimated 3 to 6% of men suffer from major depression. In their review, Ramchandani and colleague Dr Lamprini Psychogiou found that when fathers are affected, their teenage children are at higher-than-average risk of depression and suicidal behaviour.
Similarly, when fathers suffered from anxiety disorders like PTSD, substance abuse or bipolar disorder, their children were at heightened risk of developing those same conditions, or other emotional and behavioural issues.
Furthermore, young children whose fathers become depressed soon after their birth - a paternal form of postpartum depression - have higher rates of emotional and behavioural problems.
The reasons are likely to involve genetic susceptibility, as well as environment and upbringing, according to the researchers.
Depression affects earning ability
Fathers in poor mental health may not, for example, be able to give their children the emotional support they need. They may also be unable to financially support the family, which creates another set of difficulties, the researchers point out.
The bottom line, according to Ramchandani, is that addressing fathers' psychiatric problems may help the family as well.
"We don't have the evidence to be completely sure that things will be better for their children if men get treatment," Ramchandani said. "But on the balance of findings, it seems likely that children will do better if their fathers are well." – (Reuters Health, May 2009)