Mother and father depression symptoms and child emotional difficulties: a Network model

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Background Mother and father depression symptoms often co-occur, and together can have a substantial impact on child emotional well-being. Little is understood about symptom-level mechanisms underlying the co-occurrence of depression symptoms within families. Aims The objective was to use network analysis to examine depression symptoms in mothers and fathers after having a baby, and emotional symptoms in children in early adolescence. Method We examined data from 4492 mother-father-child trios taken from a prospective, population-based cohort in the UK. Symptoms were examined using two unregularised partial correlation network models. The initial model was used to examine the pattern of associations, i.e. the overall network structure, for mother and father depression symptoms, and then to identify bridge symptoms that reinforce depression symptoms between parents during offspring infancy. The second model examined associations between the parent symptom network, including bridge symptoms, with later child emotional difficulties. Results The study included 4492 mother-father-child trios; 2204 (49.1%) children were female. Bridge symptoms reinforcing mother and father depression symptoms were feeling guilty and self-harm ideation. For mothers, the bridge symptom of feeling guilty, and symptoms of anhedonia, panic and sadness were highly connected with child emotional difficulties. For fathers, the symptom of feeling overwhelmed associated with child emotional difficulties. Guilt and anhedonia in fathers appeared to indirectly associate with child emotional difficulties through the same symptom in mothers. Conclusions Our findings suggest that specific symptom cascades are central for co-occurring depression in parents and increased vulnerability in children, providing potential therapeutic targets.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2023


  • Co-occurrence
  • Within-family transmission
  • Psychopathology
  • Treatment targets


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