Change in child psychopathology with improvement in parental depression: A systematic review

Meredith L. Gunlicks, Myrna M. Weissman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

217 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: To systematically review current research evidence of associations between improvement in parents' depression and their children's psychopathology. METHOD: Relevant studies were identified using PsycINFO (1806-2007) and Medline (1950-2007). The search terms used were "depression," "postpartum depression," "treatment, " "mothers," "fathers," "parents," "offspring," "mother child relations," and "father child relations." The reference sections of identified articles were also examined for additional relevant articles. Open and controlled clinical trials and observational studies of depressed parents that also included psychological and behavioral assessments of offspring 18 years of age or younger were included in the review. RESULTS: Ten studies meeting broad criteria for inclusion were reviewed. These studies varied considerably in sample, treatment, assessment, and analysis. Based on the few studies, there is some evidence of associations between successful treatment of parents' depression and improvement in children's symptoms and functioning, but treatment of postpartum depression may not be sufficient for improving cognitive development, attachment, and temperament in infants and toddlers. CONCLUSIONS: Due to the public health implications of the findings, further study of the effects of improvement in parental depression on child psychopathology is warranted. These studies need to examine the precise relation between parental and child symptoms, the differential effect of parents' treatment with psychotherapy versus medication, the effect of fathers' as well as mothers' symptomatic improvement on children, and mediators and moderators of the relation between parental improvement and child psychopathology. Copyright 2008

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)379-389
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Disclosure: Dr. Weissman has received research funding from Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline, as well as the National Institute for Mental Health, and receives royalties from Oxford University Press, the American Psychiatric Association, and Perseus Press. Dr. Gunlicks reports no conflicts of interest. REVIEW

Funding Information:
This research was supported by grants R01MH063852 (M. Weissman, P.I.) and P30MH071478 (D. Shaffer, P.I.) from the National Institute of Mental Health. Dr. Gunlicks is supported by an Institutional Research Training Grant T32MH016434. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Mental Health or the National Institutes of Health.


  • Depression
  • Fathers
  • Mothers
  • Offspring
  • Treatment


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