The Indivisibility of Parental and Child Mental Health and Why Poverty Matters

Morag Treanor, Patricio Troncoso*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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To ascertain to what extent parental and children's mental health wellbeing are inter-related over time.

We used a birth cohort study of 5,217 children in Scotland followed up from birth to adolescence. We fitted a Random Intercept Cross-lagged Panel Model for parental mental health and children's conduct problems and emotional symptoms. We included longitudinal patterns of poverty as the main covariate and some demographic control variables.

The effects of parental mental health and child conduct problems and emotional symptoms on one another are roughly equal in early childhood. At younger ages, parents with poorer mental health tend to negatively affect their children's conduct and the conduct problems of a child seem to impact negatively on their parents' mental health. At older ages, it is children's emotional symptoms, but not conduct problems, that tend to have a reciprocal effect on parental mental health. Regarding structural inequalities, the effect of poverty on parents' and children's mental health is categorically the largest and continues to accrue throughout the whole period, intensifying mental health problems for both parents and children over time.

Children’s and parents' wellbeing is a bidirectional process. This interdependency needs to be acknowledged and addressed in policy. To foster children's wellbeing, we also need to foster parents' wellbeing. Furthermore, all interventions that address mental health and wellbeing in parents and children and that do not also tackle structural inequalities, such as poverty, will have limited success.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)470-477
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number3
Early online date6 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023


  • Bidirectional effects
  • Children's conduct problems
  • Children's emotional symptoms
  • Growing up in Scotland
  • Longitudinal study
  • Parental mental health
  • Random intercept cross-lagged panel model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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