MONDAY, April 2, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Children who have at least one depressed parent are more likely to use costly health-care services, such as visits to the emergency room and to specialists.
The study confirms previous research but, because of its large size, lends additional credibility to the conclusions.
"We had a much larger study," said Dr. Marion Sills, lead author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver. "This data is more reliable."
Dr. Jane Ripperger-Suhler, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, added: "It makes sense to me for a lot of reasons, and I think that we've been connecting parental depression to lots of different kinds of problems in children for a long time, and it's great to have a really big study to support that. The course of action is, first of all, let's treat parents and, second of all, maybe we need to make that treatment easier to access and more comprehensive."
The study is published in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics.
As many as 47 percent of parents may suffer depression, which can adversely affect child behavioral, developmental, psychological and physiologic health. But previous studies pointing to this association have generally been small in size or suffered from other methodological limitations.
For this study, Sills and her colleagues looked at health-care use patterns for almost 70,000 children, from infants to 17-year-olds, who were enrolled in the Kaiser Permanente of Colorado health plan between July 1997 and December 2001. More than one-third (25,000) of the children had at least one parent with a diagnosis of depression. The rest of the children served as a control group.
Teenagers of depressed parents had fewer well-child-care visits but more visits to emergency rooms and specialty clinics. This is the first report of such an association for this age group -- 13- to 17-year-olds.
Infants of depressed parents had 14 percent more sick visits than children of non-depressed parents.
The study authors suggested that increased screening and treatment of parental depression would result in fewer emergency department visits and other expensive health-care practices.
In fact, they pointed out, routine screening of mothers during their children's well-child-care visits has proven successful in the past.
The study, however, didn't point to specific solutions.
"This was a retrospective study, and we use these to help guide us about the next steps. Based on those next steps, we make recommendations," Sills explained. "This lays the groundwork. If we had found no association between parental depression and health-care utilization patterns in children, we would be less eager to do a study on an intervention. Because we did find it, that makes (such an intervention) more important."
For more on the mental health of children and adults, visit the National Institute of Mental Health.