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 from birth until they are five, compared to when they are aged five to 10.
The likelihood of developing depression is also higher compared to 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.
One in 15 homes in the UK is headed by a single mother, with a third to a half of children having a non-resident parent as they grow up.
The research, published in Psychological Medicine, 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 Nineties study at the University of Bristol, 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 other factors.