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Keywords:

  • child;
  • depression;
  • mothers;
  • fathers;
  • moderation

Background

The relationship between parental and child depressive symptoms has been found to be stronger for mothers than for fathers. Does this mean that fathers’ mental health is less important in the context of child depressive symptoms? The goal of the current study is to test whether the degree of fathers’ depressive symptoms moderate the relationship between mothers’ and children's depressive symptoms. Our knowledge about such interaction effects between mothers’ and fathers’ symptoms is limited.

Methods

We examined depressive symptoms in 190 children (age 7–13, 118 boys) referred to child community clinics and their parents. Mothers and fathers reported on their own and their child's depressive symptoms, whereas children only reported on their own symptoms.

Results

Structural equation modeling revealed significant interaction effects of mothers’ and fathers’ depressive symptoms on mother- and father-reported child depressive symptoms, while no effects were found for child reports. When fathers reported few depressive symptoms for themselves, no relationship between mothers’ and children's depressive symptoms was observed. The more depressive symptoms in fathers, the stronger the relationship between mothers’ and children's symptoms.

Conclusions

Fathers’ mental health may be a protective factor in the relationship between mothers’ and children's depressive symptoms. Thus, researchers and practitioners would benefit from considering not only depressive symptoms in mothers, but also in fathers, when examining and working with child depressive symptoms.