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Global review: Supporting dads’ mental wellness

A global review which combined results from published studies of more than seven million fathers, including Australians and their children, has confirmed there is a significant link between a father’s depression and an increased risk of mental health issues in their children.

The Curtin University-led review looked at 16 international studies undertaken between 2002 and 2021, and found children faced a 42 per cent higher risk of depression if their father was depressed.

Lead author Dr Berihun Dachew, a post-doctoral research fellow in epidemiology from the Curtin School of Population Health, says there was a need to adopt a family-focused approach that addresses both maternal and paternal mental health issues to mitigate negative effects on children’s wellbeing.

“This review highlights the need for a more comprehensive approach that acknowledges the influence of the paternal parents’ mental health on the overall mental wellbeing of the family,” Dr Dachew said.

“We found when fathers had more severe depression requiring clinical assistance, the risk of their children developing depression was even stronger, as opposed to dads with milder symptoms of feeling down.

“The role of more severe paternal depression in association with child depression, may suggest that genetic predispositions play a role in explaining the links we observed. However, more studies are needed to confirm this interpretation.

“While there is an increasing awareness of the role paternal depression can have in child development and later psychosocial outcomes, current interventions for preventing adolescent depression do not always involve male partners.

Senior author and head of the Curtin School of Population Health, Professor Rosa Alati, said the findings emphasised the importance of early intervention and support for fathers experiencing depression.

“Considering the prevalence of male depression and the increasing involvement of fathers in childcare, it is crucial to incorporate paternal mental wellbeing when addressing the wellbeing of offspring,” Professor Alati said.

“By recognising the impact of paternal depression on children, policymakers, healthcare professionals and support services should work towards implementing strategies that promote mental wellness in fathers and provide resources to mitigate the risk of depression in their children.”

Published in the journal JAMA Network Open, the study, titled ‘Paternal Depression and Risk of Depression among Offspring: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis’, is available online here.

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