GIRLS who are left by their fathers before the age of five are more likely to develop depression as teenagers, according to a new study.
Research shows girls are most at risk of depressive symptoms in adolescence when their fathers are absent during ages 0 to five, compared with when they are aged five to 10.
The likelihood of developing depression is also higher compared with boys whose fathers leave during the first five years, and between ages five and 10.
It is believed the link is stronger in girls left at a younger age as they have not yet developed coping mechanisms or a strong support network of friends outside the family.
Experts at the University of Bristol, who carried out the study, say the findings could lead to extra support for girls with absent fathers in early childhood.
Iryna Culpin, the paper's lead author, said: "These findings indicate a need to include fathers in research related to child and adolescent mental health issues."
The research, published in Psychological Medicine today, is one of only a few studies to specifically examine the effect of a father's absence and the timing of his departure on mental health.
Researchers used data from 5,631 families in the Children Of The 90s study, which has charted the health and well-being of participants since birth.
They found a "strong link" between early childhood father absence and the risk of depressive symptoms in teenage girls, even taking into account a wide range of contributory factors.
These included home ownership, social status, financial problems, family size, parental conflict, the mother's educational background and a history of depression.
Previous studies suggest that the stronger negative effect of father absence on the mental health of teenage girls over boys could be because girls are more vulnerable to negative interpersonal and family life events.