Children of parents with depression more likely to end up in medical care, study finds

UK researchers say parents with depression more anxious about their children’s healthcare

Children of parents with depression were 41 per cent more likely to attend an emergency department,  a study in the BMJ Paediatrics Open has found.

Children of parents with depression were 41 per cent more likely to attend an emergency department, a study in the BMJ Paediatrics Open has found.

 

Children with parents who suffer from depression are more likely to end up in hospital or in the doctor’s surgery, a UK study has found.

The research paper, published on Monday in the online BMJ Paediatrics Open journal, found that poor health among parents was linked to a more frequent use of health services, including emergency care, among their children.

The study, based on data from South East London, found the children of parents with depression were 41 per cent more likely to attend an emergency department and 47 per cent more likely to be admitted to hospital. They were also 28 per cent more likely to end up at the GP while the chances of becoming a hospital outpatient rose by 67 per cent.

The children of parents who visited the GP were found to be 7 per cent move likely to also visit the doctor, while children of parents who availed of emergency hospital care were 27 per cent more likely to end up in the emergency room.

The study was based on the health records of 25,000 patients registered with one family doctor practice in South East London over a period of 12 months. From this data, researchers created ‘household’ groups of patients living at the same address and calculated the impact of parents’ long term conditions on their children’s attendance at GP appointments, emergency departments, outpatient appointments and hospital admissions.

Single-parent household

Some 6,738 children up to the age of 15 who lived in 3,373 households with parents aged 18-55 were included in the final analysis. Of these, 41 per cent (2,500) lived in a single-parent household, the same proportion lived with two parents and nearly one in five lived with three or more adults.

The children examined in the study were divided into three age groups; 0-5, 6-10 and 11-15 and influencing factors such as deprivation levels, parental age and gender were taken into account.

The most common long-term illness among parents in the study was depression and nearly 1,000 children had a parent who had been diagnosed with the condition.

While the authors admitted they could not establish a direct cause for the link between adult depression and increased child healthcare visits, they suggested that parents who suffer from depression may become more anxious about their children’s health. Their depression may also be a consequence of a child’s prolonged illness, thee authors hypothesized.

They recommend that a “holistic assessment of family needs, particularly parental mental health and support” could be an affective approaching to improving children’s health and wellbeing.

Given that the study only focused on one general practice, the authors underline that the findings might not apply elsewhere. Researchers were also unable to assess the level of social support the families receive from relatives, such as grandparents, who did not live in the same household. However, they noted that the study’s findings are consistent were previous studies on the healthcare use of children in relation to their parents.