Abstract: Individual and Combined Effects of Parental Depression on Adolescent Well-Being (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

Individual and Combined Effects of Parental Depression on Adolescent Well-Being

Thursday, January 11, 2018: 4:09 PM
Marquis BR Salon 10 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kevin Shafer, PhD, Associate Professor, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Background and Purpose: Parental depression can significantly impact children. Prior research, focusing mostly on the mothers of young children, finds that depressed mothers are less likely to exhibit warmth toward their children, are more hostile, complete fewer caregiving tasks, and are less emotionally available than mothers who are not depressed. Few studies have considered the impact of paternal depression on children. These studies find that paternal depression negatively impacts children. Importantly, little work has addressed how the mental health status of each parent, both as an individual and as a combined unit, influences children. The few studies addressing this issue focus exclusively on the post-partum period. This paper addresses these gaps by looking at how adolescents are impacted by having neither, one, or both parents who are depressed.

Methods: Data came from the Grade 6 and Age 15 waves of the Survey of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD), a longitudinal study of child development conducted by NICHD in 10 sites across the United States. Our sample consisted of adolescents that had contact with a biological/adoptive residential mother and a biological/adoptive/social father (n = 898). The dependent variables were externalizing (α = 0.91) and internalizing behaviors (α = 0.85) at age 15, measured by the Child Behavioral Checklist. The independent variable was a categorical variable indicating if only the mother, only the father, both parents, or neither parent was depressed at Grade 6. This was determined by using the clinically significant cutoff score of 16 on the CES-D 20 scale. Control variables included child gender, child race, presence of a social father, income:needs ratio, maternal and paternal parenting behaviors, mother’s and father’s educational attainment, father’s residential status, mother’s assessment of coparenting relationship, and internalizing and externalizing behavior at Grade 6.

Results: Approximately 71% of adolescents had neither parent with a clinically significant depression score, 12% with a mother only, 8% with a father only, and 9% had both parents depressed. OLS regression, correcting for the clustered nature of the data and correcting for heteroskedasticity, was used for the analyses. For externalizing problems, father’s depression had a positive effect (b = 3.712, p < .001), as did having two depressed parents (b = 8.932, p < .001), when compared to having no depressed parents. Maternal depression (b = 2.162, p < .01) and having two depressed parents (b = 9.579, p < .001) was associated with internalized problems. 

Conclusions and Implications: The results indicate that child wellbeing is strongly and negatively impacted by having two depressed parents. When only one parent is depressed, the results followed a gendered pattern. Children with depressed fathers were more likely to have externalizing behavioral problems, whereas internalizing problems were more likely when mothers were depressed. Supplementary analyses showed no differences in these effects by child gender. The results underscore the importance of a family system perspective, the impact of parental mental health on children of all ages, and the need for research which considers the full family system, not just mothers and children.