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Depressed parents may take kids to the doctor more often

By Thomson Reuters Foundation - Aug 11,2018 - Last updated at Aug 12,2018

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Parents with depression may be more likely to take their children to the doctor than those without mental health problems, a UK study suggests. 

When parents are depressed, kids are 41 per cent more likely to visit the emergency room, 47 per cent more likely to be admitted to the hospital and 67 per cent more likely to have outpatient clinic visits than when parents are not depressed, researchers found. 

“Our study did not explore the reason for the link between parents’ mental health and their children’s use of health services, however, there are several possible explanations,” said lead study author Kathryn Dreyer of the Health Foundation in London. 

“Parental depression might be a consequence of prolonged illness in a child,” Dreyer said by email. “Additionally, parents with depression may require additional support to help them manage both their health and their children’s health and as a result may use more healthcare services.” 

As reported in BMJ Paediatrics Open, Dreyer and colleagues reviewed one year of electronic health records for more than 25,000 patients registered with a multisite medical practice in London. This included 6,738 children up to 15 years old living in 3,373 households with parents ranging in age from 18 to 55. 

Roughly 41 per cent of kids lived in single-parent households, another 41 per cent lived with both parents and about 19 per cent lived with three or more adults. 

Overall, almost 1,000 kids, or 16 per cent, had a parent diagnosed with depression. 

After researchers accounted for parents’ use of healthcare, parental depression was still associated with increased odds of children using health services. 

When parents had consultations with general practitioners, kids were 7 per cent more likely to see the family doctor than when parents did not have consultations of their own. 

And, when parents had visited an emergency room for care, their children were 27 per cent more likely to also have received emergency care at some point compared to children of parents who had not gone to the emergency room. 

The study was not designed to prove whether or how parents’ own use of medical care or their depression might directly impact how often their children saw doctors. Researchers also lacked data on how much social support parents and children had from grandparents or other relatives, which might influence how often they received medical care. 

While the reasons depressed parents seek more care for their kids are not clear from the study, the findings still underscore the importance of parents getting treatment for mental health disorders, said Dr Katherine A. Auger, a researcher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio, who was not involved in the study.

It is possible that children of depressed parents get more emergency and urgent care because they don’t get as many well-child checkups as kids whose parents are not depressed, and they’re sicker as a result, Auger said by email.

“Parents with depression may be more worried about their child’s symptoms and take them to the emergency department more frequently. It is also possible that parents of sicker children who need the emergency department may be more prone to depression,” Auger added.

“Depressed parents balancing chaotic work schedules and family routines may choose to seek care at the emergency department as opposed to general clinics because of the easier availability of the emergency department,” Auger noted.

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