Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. William Avison


The study of children’s mental health has largely been the domain of developmental psychologists and psychiatrists. These studies focus on parental mental health, and examine its direct and indirect effects, through a family’s psychosocial environment. Relatively little attention is given to socio-structural factors. By contrast, the sociology of mental health focuses on such structural factors as poverty and income, examining the extent to which stressors and strains may pattern the effects of these factors on children’s psychopathology. Adding to the divergence in research is the use of maternal reports in the assessment of children’s mental health. These reports often reflect mothers’ own mental health status and are inherently biased. Using data collected from 560 couples in London, Ontario, the current study moves beyond the scope of these disciplines to assess the effects of parental socio-structural and stress characteristics in relation to parental psychopathology. It addresses the issue of bias by using both maternal and paternal reports of their children’s mental health. In a final set of analyses, the results that are obtained using both parents’ reports are reconciled through an assessment of possible factors that may predispose either parent to overreport their children’s psychopathology. Findings indicate a moderate association between social structural characteristics and children’s mental health. This association is mediated by parental stress, which by itself is a direct and independent predictor of children’s mental health. The effect of parental distress, however, appeared to be a function of the parental report that was utilized. When mothers’ reports were used, their distress correlated with children’s psychopathology. Similarly, fathers’ distress mattered only when their own reports were used. Parental distress, independently and in relation to social structural, stress and family relationships, also contributes very little to the discrepancies in mothers’ and fathers’ reports of their children’s mental health. The findings of this study support the need for children’s mental health studies and intervention that transcends a focus on parental psychopathology to include an improvement in the social conditions of children.