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A father who is depressed is more likely to have children who have emotional or behavioral symptoms, according to a new study from New York University of Medicine.

Previous studies have shown that a woman’s depression raises the risk of emotional problems in her offspring, but this was one of the first studies aimed at fathers.

Dr. Michael Weitzman, a professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine at NYU, went through data on more than 7,200 American families, and found that 25% of the children whose mother and father showed signs of depression had psychiatric issues themselves. This translated to the 15% of children with fathers who were depressed and 20% of those with depressed mothers. Six percent of parents without signs of depression had children with emotional problems.

One troubling finding, considering the nation’s high unemployment rate, was that not having a job was the strongest predictor of depression in fathers. Unemployed fathers were 6.5 times more likely to be depressed. Other factors linked to depression were having a special needs child or a depressed wife or partner, living in poverty, or experiencing poor physical health.

""Fathers play profoundly important roles in the lives of children and families, and are all too often forgotten in our efforts to help children," Dr. Weitzman said. "These new findings, we hope, will be useful to much-needed efforts to develop strategies to identify and treat the very large number of fathers with depression."

Dr. Paul Rasmussen, a psychologist at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, said that a depressed parent can disengage from childcare responsibilities, which can cause children to act out for attention. He also said that depression is harder to recognize in men, because it can show up in symptoms such as anger, substance abuse, or self-destructive behaviors.

The Weitzman study was published in Maternal and Child Health Journal.

 

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