Parents’ depression may harm children’s health

Children more likely to need costly health services.
April 12, 2007

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – When a parent suffers from depression, children are more likely to need costly health services like emergency room visits, and less likely to get preventive healthcare, according to a new study.

The findings bolster evidence that parents’ depression can take a toll on their children’s health. The effect can be seen as “one of the hidden costs of adult depression,” the researchers report in the journal Pediatrics.

For the study, Dr. Marion Sills and her colleagues at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver reviewed data on nearly 70,000 infants, children and teenagers enrolled in a single healthcare insurance plan.

Between 1997 and 2002, they found, children with at least one parent diagnosed with depression were more likely than other children their age to have an emergency room visit, see a specialist or visit their doctor due to an illness.

On the other hand, teenagers with a depressed parent were less likely to make routine visits for a check-up and preventive care.

The study was not designed to answer the question of why parents’ depression affected their children’s healthcare, Sills told Reuters Health. She hopes these findings will spur more research into that question.

Some experts have called for pediatricians to screen children’s parents routinely for depression with standard questionnaires so that they can be referred for treatment. The current findings support that idea, according to Sills and her colleagues.

If research is any indication, however, few pediatricians currently ask parents about depression symptoms. In one study, Sills noted, only 8 percent of pediatricians said they routinely asked mothers about depressive symptoms.

Yet, Sills pointed out, research has shown that routine pediatrician visits can provide a good opportunity to briefly screening new mothers for postpartum depression.

Whether widespread parental screening would encourage more to seek depression treatment — and whether that would result in better healthcare for their children — is unknown. Those are questions future studies should address, Sills said.

Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, April 2007.

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