What are the Effects of Mothers’ and Fathers’ Depression and Thoughts of Death on Their Children’s Level of Parental Connectedness?
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Mental health outcomes such as depression are often passed down in families. While links between the mental health symptoms of parents and their children have been established, there is a limited understanding of these outcomes over time and the impact that mothers and fathers have on their children independently. Understanding the mechanisms within families that lead to positive health outcomes is important for designing interventions to improve children’s lives. Feeling close to others—knowing that others care and are there during times of distress—is protective for many mental health conditions. This brief focuses on parent-child connectedness, which has been shown to both decrease children’s distress and strengthen their social coping resources. This study extends the current understanding of the relationship between parental mental health and child outcomes by evaluating the impact of parents’ patterns of depression and thoughts of death on their children’s appraisals of how connected they feel to each of their parents separately. This study analyzes data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, which followed 4,706 children born to mostly unmarried parents until age nine. Parental depression and thoughts of death were measured when the child was ages one, three, five, and nine. Mothers and fathers were asked if, during the previous 12 months, they had feelings of sadness/depression for two or more weeks. Those who reported sadness/depression were also asked if they “thought a lot about death during those two weeks.” Children reported on their connectedness to their parents—how close they felt to each parent and how well they shared ideas with each parent—when they were nine years old. In data analyses, the authors explore the effects of the mothers’ and fathers’ chronic and episodic depressive symptoms and thoughts of death on their children’s level of parental connectedness at age nine.