Original Paper

Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 45, Issue 11, pp 1023-1035

First online:

Parents’ mental health and children’s cognitive and social development

Families in England in the Millennium Cohort Study
  • Fiona K. MensahAffiliated withDepartment of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York
  • , Kathleen E. KiernanAffiliated withDepartment of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York Email author 

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Abstract

Background

The development of children of parents who are experiencing mental health difficulties is a continuing cause of concern for professionals working in health, social care and education as well as policy makers. In light of this interest our study investigates the interplay between the mental health of mothers and fathers and family socioeconomic resources, and the impact for children’s cognitive and social development.

Methods

The study uses survey data from the Millennium Cohort Study linked with the Foundation Stage Profile assessment for children in the primary year of school in England between 2005 and 2006. The study includes 4,781 families from England where both parents’ mental health had been assessed using the Kessler 6 scale. Associations between parents’ mental health and children’s cognitive and social development were estimated using regression models. Multivariate models were used to explore the mediating role of the families’ socioeconomic resources. Gender interaction models were used to explore whether effects of parents’ mental health differ for girls and boys.

Results

The study finds lower attainment in communication, language and literacy, mathematical development and personal, social and emotional development among children whose parents were experiencing high levels of psychological distress. Parents’ age and qualifications and families’ socioeconomic resources strongly mediated the effects of parents’ psychological distress on children’s attainment, and although independent effects of mother’s mental health were maintained, effects of father’s mental health were not. Stronger effects of mothers’ mental health were found for boys than for girls.

Conclusions

These findings highlight the interplay between the mental health of parents, families’ socioeconomic resources and children’s development which speaks for the need for close integration of mental health and social interventions to improve the well being of families.

Keywords

Children’s cognitive development Children’s social development Mother’s mental health Father’s mental health Family socioeconomic situation