Children whose parents are battling depression are at greater risk of doing badly in school, and a mother’s depression is more likely to affect a daughter, says research published online in JAMA Psychiatry.

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Parental depression can have a detrimental effect on a child’s school grades.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that depression affects 7.6% of Americans aged 12 years and older, 3% of whom have severe depressive symptoms.

Economically deprived individuals are 2.5 times more likely to experience depression, and the condition is more prevalent among women generally and in the 40-59-year age group.

Over 43% of people with mild depressive symptoms and nearly 90% of those with severe depression face problems at work, at home and in social activities.

Depression increases the chance of illness, disability and early death, and it can have a severe impact on families and loved ones.

Previous studies have indicated that depression in parents raises the risk of their children facing behavioral, psychiatric, neurodevelopmental and emotional problems.

Later in life, children who do badly at school are more likely to struggle with poor health, have fewer chances at work and lower income.

In view of this, Brian K. Lee, PhD, of the Drexel University School of Public Health in Philadelphia, PA, and coauthors wanted to look at the effect of parental depression on school performance.

The researchers focused on the school results for all Swedish youth born between 1984-1994. In Sweden, young people can leave school at 16 years, so that was the school year from which the data were taken.

The team looked for associations linking diagnoses of parental depression from inpatient and outpatient records with school grades for children born between 1984-1994.

They looked at national data for over 1.1 million children, plus 33,906 mothers and 23,724 fathers who had depression before a child reached the end of compulsory schooling.

Statistics showed that 3% of mothers and 2.1% of fathers experienced depression before the final year of a child’s compulsory education.

Findings showed a link between lower grades and maternal and paternal depression at any time before the child finished compulsory schooling. Adjusting for other factors revealed that paternal postnatal depression was not statistically significant. Depression in mothers affected girls’ performance more than that of boys.

Limitations include the possibility of undiagnosed depression. Also, the statistics did not reveal whether the children were living with their birth parents during the study.

The researchers conclude:

Diagnoses of parental depression may have a far-reaching effect on child development. Because parental depression may be more amenable to improvement compared with other influences, such as socioeconomic status, it is worth verifying the present results in independent cohorts. If the associations observed are causal, the results strengthen the case even further for intervention and support among children of affected parents.”

Medical News Today recently reported on findings suggesting that depression may pass from mothers to daughters.