The inter-relationship of adolescent unhappiness and parental mental distress

Webb, Elizabeth, Panico, Lidia, Bécares, Laia, McMunn, Anne, Kelly, Yvonne and Sacker, Amanda (2017) The inter-relationship of adolescent unhappiness and parental mental distress. Journal of Adolescent Health, 60 (2). pp. 196-203. ISSN 1054-139X

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Substantial evidence supports the hypothesis that parental well-being impacts upon child well-being and that this relationship is bidirectional. Here we explore how, in a large, nationally representative sample, both parents' mental distress relates over time to each other's mental distress and to their adolescent child's unhappiness, and vice versa.

Analyses were conducted using data from waves one to five (2009/10–2014/15) of Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study. Understanding Society collects data on adults' mental distress (General Health Questionnaire), and on youths' (age: 10–15 years) unhappiness in relation to their school work, appearance, family, friends, school, and life as a whole. We use repeated-measures structural equation models to investigate the reciprocal relationships between both parents' distress and their child's unhappiness, using both longitudinal cross-lagged and nonrecursive contemporaneous specifications. The analytic sample is 1,883 triads (adolescent child, mother, and father) with data at two or more consecutive time points. Analyses are stratified by adolescent gender.

Our results show that parental mental distress predicts unhappiness of girls but not that of boys. Reciprocal associations of maternal and paternal mental distress are evident in families with an adolescent daughter. Unhappiness of adolescents does not predict their parents' mental distress. Results are similar whether examined contemporaneously or over time.

Our findings support the suggestion that the family should be considered as a dynamic system, for instance when planning clinical interventions. This is particularly pertinent in families with an adolescent daughter present.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Education and Social Work > Social Work and Social Care
Subjects: L Education
Depositing User: Deeptima Massey
Date Deposited: 10 Aug 2018 13:49
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2019 14:51

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