Children of Parents With Mental Health Conditions Have an Increased Risk of Health Problems

By Rob Dillard - Last Updated: May 9, 2023

A new study finds that children who come from parents battling mental health conditions have a higher risk of somatic morbidity, and if both parents have mental health issues, the correlation is stronger. The findings were reported this week in BMC Public Health.

Almost half of children grow up in households with parents suffering some mental condition, and this negatively affects childhood wellbeing. Most studies have focused on how parental mental health conditions impact the child’s own mental state; however, not many have sought to discern how the connection influences somatic morbidities. The analyses that have examined this association have largely focused on mothers with depression, particularly postpartum depression, the researchers noted. As such, this study aimed to “describe the morbidity in different age-groups of children with parental mental health conditions.”

In this Danish nationwide register-based cohort study, researchers assessed somatic morbidity in 1,028,587 children below the age of 1 year, 1,965,253 children between the ages of 1 and 5, and 680,799 children ages 6 to 16. Parental mental health conditions were categorized into four severity groups (no, minor, moderate, and severe).

A Concerning Link Found

The findings showed that of the entire study population, over 14.5% were exposed to minor parental mental health conditions, while under  2.3% were exposed to severe parental mental health conditions. Overall, the analysis found that both paternal and maternal mental health conditions were correlated with an increased risk of infectious and respiratory diseases; however, these correlations were stronger for maternal mental health conditions. The somatic morbidity risk was highest in children with both a mother and father suffering from mental health conditions. The researchers further noted that the strongest association was observed for digestive diseases in children aged < 1 year exposed to severe parental mental health conditions (RR=1.87 (95% CI, 1.74–2.00).

“Children with parental mental health conditions experience an overall poor physical health with an elevated risk across most broad disease categories,” the researchers concluded. “Generally, the risk of somatic morbidity increased the more severe the parental mental health condition. However, minor parental mental health conditions should not be neglected since this concerns a substantially large group of children.”

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