School of Health in Social Science

Intergenerational Mental Health

There is substantial evidence that parents' mental health and well-being have a formative and long-lasting impact on developmental outcomes for infants and children.

Parental mental health affects young children through its impact on parent-infant interaction and the family environment. This process begins as early as during pregnancy and is particularly important through what has been termed “The First 1000 Days” from conception through to 2 years of age (also called the perinatal period).  

For individuals experiencing mental health difficulties, including but not limited to depression, anxiety and trauma, the perinatal period presents a time of profound change and challenges, but also of hope and opportunities for positive change. However, these difficulties are often nested within broader societal challenges such as discrimination, violence, migration and conflict and can be contextualized through the lens of social determinants of health.  

Our interdisciplinary work reflects the positioning of mental health within the global priorities of child and maternal health and goes further to propose an intergenerational approach to mental health. We use a variety of methods including data-driven research with population samples, observational cohorts, qualitative enquiry, evidence synthesis, meta -analysis and implementation approaches to treatment evaluation.  

Research work by the group has a global reach with projects conducted in Scotland, UK, Denmark, Chile, Tajikistan and Malawi.  

Research aims within the group include:  

  1. Identifying biopsychosocial factors for risk and resilience, such as mental health status, exposure to trauma (including the climate crisis, conflict and population displacement, maternity related factors, deprivation and the experience of miscarriage and loss).    
  2. Exploring psychological mechanisms for risk and resilience, such as caregiving representations, mentalization and caregiver interaction.  
  3. Evaluating the impact of psychological interventions in the “First 1000 days” both for parents (e.g., interventions for perinatal anxiety) and for infants and their caregivers (e.g., Mellow Parenting).  
  4. Influencing the agenda on  the importance of intergenerational mental health for health and social care policy, and how a focus on this can benefit outcomes beyond health, including education and child identities.  

Funded by National Institute for Health Research, Chief Scientists Office of the Scottish Government, Medical Research Council and Millar McKenzie Trust.