The Role of Father Participation in the Treatment of Childhood Mood Disorders

Article excerpt

The Role of Father Participation in the Treatment of Childhood

Mood Disorders*

This article focuses on the role of fathers in family interventions designed to deal with mental illness (with particular emphasis given to childhood mood disorders) and the implications for future research, program development, and public policy issues. Pertinent research on childhood mood disorders that concentrates on family system and parental subsystem characteristics is reviewed, as are studies that contribute to an understanding of the impact fathers have on the onset and course of childhood mood disorders. Additionally, preliminary information generated from one family based intervention targeting childhood mood disorders is discussed briefly in order to illustrate additional issues to be considered in the design and implementation of family based programming.

Key Words: childhood mood disorders, fathers, intervention, mental illness.

The family literature does not contain much information about the role of fathers in family based interventions. Empirical information about fathers' characteristics associated with variables of interest to family intervention professionals, including family system functioning and the development and well-being of children within the family, is limited. Although the body of empirical knowledge pertaining to father involvement in childrearing and other core aspects of family life has expanded over the past 2 decades (Lamb, 1997; Marsiglio, Amato, Day, & Lamb, 2000), most of these studies have focused on normative developmental issues. Therefore, potential linkages between father characteristics and more clinically focused variables have received scant attention. The result is a lack of empirical evidence that would compel family intervention professionals to pay greater attention to the issue of father involvement in clinical treatment.

The present article focuses on one important mental health concern-childhood mood disorders (i.e., children who have been clinically diagnosed with major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, or bipolar disorder)-to draw attention to relevant issues that arise when father involvement in family intervention is considered. First, we review the literature connecting childhood mood disorders and family system and parental subsystem characteristics. Second, we examine available information regarding the impact of fathers on the lives of mood-disordered children. Third, we highlight issues to consider in program design and service delivery based on our ongoing involvement with a psychoeducational intervention for families of children with a mood disorders. Finally, we extrapolate from issues raised in both the literature and from our applied work, to identify implications for professionals regarding father involvement in family interventions targeting childhood mental illnesses.

What Do We Know About the Families of Mood

Disordered Children?

Research on child psychopathology in general continues to expand its focus on family characteristics as potential risk, ameliorating factors, or both. Prominent variables of interest have included: family support and cohesion (e.g., Seiffge-Krenke, 1995); family adaptability (Smets & Hartup, 1988); family conflict (Sheeber, Hops, Alpert, Davis, & Andrews, 1997); family stress (e.g., Compas, 1987; Forehand, Biggar, & Kotchick, 1998); and overall family environment (e.g., Kazdin, 1992; Tamplin, Goodyer, & Herbert, 1998). In general, these studies suggest that family climates characterized by low support, low adaptability, high conflict and stress, and poor relationship quality are associated with child psychopathology.

Some literature noted above has focused specifically on families with a depressed youth. With the family as the unit of analysis, several studies examined how family level variables, such as family support, family conflict, and general family dysfunction, are related to childhood depression (e. …