Psychological distress in mothers and fathers of preschool children: a 5-year follow-up study after birth

M Skreden, H Skari, M D Björk, U F Malt, M Veenstra, A Faugli, T L Avitsland, R Emblem
BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 2008, 115 (4): 462-71

OBJECTIVE: Maternal and paternal psychological distress influence children's development and health beyond the perinatal period. The aim of our study was to describe psychological health during a 5-year period in parents of preschool children. Secondarily, we wanted to explore differences between mothers and fathers and identify predictors for increased psychological distress in parents.

DESIGN: Prospective cohort study.

SETTING: A county in Southern Norway 1998-2004.

POPULATION: One hundred and twenty-three mothers and 112 fathers were candidates for the follow-up study.

METHODS: Parental psychological responses were assessed using the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-28), State Anxiety Inventory-X1 and Impact of Event Scale at 0-4 days, 6 weeks, 6 months and 5 years after delivery of a healthy child.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Parental psychological distress defined by GHQ-28 Likert sum score at 5-year follow-up.

RESULTS: Clinically important psychological distress (GHQ case score > or = 6) was reported by more mothers (29%) than by fathers (11%) (P = 0.004). In multivariate analysis, psychological distress (GHQ-28 Likert sum score) after 5 years was predicted by initial psychological distress, being single and low educational level in mothers, and unemployment and low quality of relationship with partner in fathers.

CONCLUSIONS: Fathers reported significantly lower frequency of clinically important psychological distress and more stable scores than mothers throughout the period. The results indicate that selected psychometric screening may be warranted for parents with known psychosocial risk factors.

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