Research Reveals Fathers Can Actually Transmit Depression To Their Children

There's no straightforward answer for what causes depression. From brain chemistry to genetics to traumatic life events, it's thought that it's most likely a combination of multiple factors, according to the Mayo Clinic. Now, a new study shows that paternal depression may be a contributing factor to adolescent depression, regardless of whether the parent and child are genetically related.

Depression is on the rise for adolescents in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). While the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues in teens, rates have been increasing for the past decade. From 2009 to 2019, one in three high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, an increase of a whopping 40%. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 4.1 million Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 had at least one major depressive episode in 2020, up from 3.2 million in 2017 (via Healthline). Symptoms of depression in adolescents include changes in appetite or weight, decreased interest in activities, complaints of boredom, a decrease in energy, alcohol or drug misuse, and withdrawal from friends.

The connection between parental and adolescent depression

A new study published in Development and Psychopathology explored the connection between fathers with depression and adolescent mental health (via Neuroscience News). Researchers analyzed data from 720 families with adolescents between the ages of 11 and 18, who were participating in the Nonshared Environment in Adolescent Development (NEAD) study. Mothers, fathers, and children rated symptoms of depression, behaviors, and parent-child conflict using mental health scales and questionnaires.

Over half of the families included a child-rearing stepparent, which allowed researchers to establish a connection between paternal and adolescent depression regardless of whether they were genetically related. Their results showed that depression can be environmentally transmitted between fathers and children, noting that this effect seemed to be especially connected to parent-child conflict.

It's important for parents to know the warning signs of depression in teens, according to Scripps Health. Experts recommend checking in with your child regularly and offering whatever support they need. Accept what they share with you without judgment or criticism, and be sure to validate their feelings. While it can be normal for teens to feel moody and temperamental, it's important to maintain communication to know if what they're experiencing is an indicator of depression.