Parental Psychological Distress and Children’s Mental Health: Results of a National Survey.


OBJECTIVE: Questions persist as to which dimensions of child mental health are most associated with parental mental health status and if these associations differ by parental gender. We assessed associations between parental psychological distress and children’s mental health. METHODS: Pooled data from the 2001, 2002, and 2004 National Health Interview Surveys (NHIS), a nationally representative, cross-sectional survey of US children aged 4 to 17 (n = 21,314), were used. Multivariate logistic regression was performed assessing associations between parental psychological distress, measured by the Kessler 6 scale, and the extended-form Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) scales. RESULTS: Logistic regression demonstrated associations between parental psychological distress and increased likelihood of child mental health problems. Children aged 4 to 11 were more likely to have mental health problems if they had a psychologically distressed father (odds ratio [OR] 7.5, 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.3-24.3) or mother (OR 6.7, 95% CI 2.7-16.7). Children aged 12 to 17 with a psychologically distressed father (OR 4.53, 95% CI 1.18-17.47) or mother (OR 3.90, 95% CI 1.34-11.37) were also more likely than those without to have mental health problems. In parents of both genders, associations existed between parental psychological distress, and abnormal emotional symptoms in younger children, conduct disorder in older children, and hyperactivity in children of all ages. CONCLUSIONS: Parental psychological distress appears similarly associated with adverse child mental health outcomes, regardless of parental gender. These findings corroborate limited prior research and demonstrate that associations between child mental health and parental mental illness are similar in magnitude for fathers and mothers.