Is parental depression associated with poor school grades of children at age 16 ?

15. 03. 2016

Depression has wider effects. Children with depressed parents are more likely to have poor language development. Children  of mothers with postnatal depression have lower IQ scores at age 11 years. Poor school performance is also reported among such children. Such associations could well be due to confounfing factors. Parental health, life style, education, income- all these can be related to both depression and children’s poor performance. If there is an independent association, this is significant as poor scholastic performance is associated with poor future health.


Hanyang Shen and colleagues at Drexel University School of Public Health, USA analysed data from one million children to answer this question. This was a nation wide Swedish  cohort of children born from 1984 to 1994. National school register provided the data on school grades. Data on parental depression was obtained from national patient register.

Parental depression diagnoses occurring before the start of the child’s final compulsory year were only included. Data was collected on a comprehensive list of covariates ( parental income, education, alcohol use,parental age at birth, maternal smoking ,family size etc).


3.0% of mothers and 2.1% of fathers had depression before the final year of child com- pulsory education. There is a significant association between parental depression and poor academic performance. Maternal depression and paternal depression are associated with −0.80 (95% CI, −0.83 to −0.77) and −0.73 (95% CI, −0.77 to −0.69) lower deciles of school grades.Once covariates were taken in to account, these associations  decreased to −0.45 (95% CI, −0.48 to −0.42) and −0.40 (95% CI, −0.43 to −0.37) lower deciles.



Service registers may show an under estimate of true occurrence of depression. However,  a subsample , with better ascertainment, also showed similar results. Information on child mental health was not available. Data on whether children were living with  both parents  for the duration of the study were not available.


Maternal depression and paternal depression are  (both) independently associated with lower academic performance of children at 16 years.This is significant even after adjusting for possible covariates. Depression at any time has negative effect. Analysis suggested that parental depression at any  period was independently associated with worse school performance. Subsample ( where more info was collected) showed that maternal depression has larger effect.


Parental depression need to be considered as a serious family mental health  problem. Early identification, and treatment is likely to minimise negative effects on children. Children of parents with depression require extra attention to reduce the ill effects of such depression. Depression has intergenerational effects. Interventions could reduce such effects.

Summary of the article

Associations of Parental Depression With Child School Performance at Age 16 Years in Sweden.Shen H, Magnusson C, Rai D, Lundberg M, Lê-Scherban F, Dalman C, Lee BK.JAMA Psychiatry. 2016 Mar 1;73(3):239-46.

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