Children of depressed mothers more likely to develop problems
28 July 2011
Mothers who suffer from depression and anxiety, both during and after pregnancy, are more likely to have children who develop difficulties later in life because the earlier in life a child encounters depression, the more likely they are to be affected by it. The effects on children of depressive illnesses in the mother, have, to date, received little attention.
Mothers who suffer from depression and anxiety, both during and after pregnancy, are more likely to have children who develop emotional, behavioural and verbal difficulties later in life because the earlier in life a child encounters depression, the more likely they are to be affected by it. The effect of risk factors on children that are associated with depressive illnesses in the mother, have, to date, received little attention.
Postnatal depression is a widely recognised condition that can, in extreme cases, lead to rejection, insensitivity and over-controlling behaviour on the part of the mother, but identifying and treating depression during pregnancy, as well as identifying and addressing risks associated to depression (including poverty, low educational attainment and teenage pregnancies) is less common. Doing so could have significant benefits for both mother and child.
These are the key findings of new research by Dr Edward Barker at Birkbeck and colleagues at King’s College London using data on almost 3,300 mothers and their children in the Children of the 90s study at the University of Bristol and published online ahead of print in the journal Depression and Anxiety.
The research found that 14 per cent of mothers suffered from clinical depression and 17 per cent reported experiencing high levels of anxiety during pregnancy, but that levels of depression had dropped by the time the child was one and a half years’ old.
By looking at levels of anxiety and depression both during and after pregnancy, the researchers found that children were more likely to have developed emotional and behavioural problems and verbal difficulties by the age of seven and eight. In addition, risk factors that were positively associated with prenatal anxiety and depression in the mother had a negative effect on the child’s behaviour at age seven and eight.
Mothers who were anxious during pregnancy were twice as likely as those who were depressed to have children who developed what are known as internalizing problems, which include both anxiety and depression, whereas depression resulted in what are known as externalizing difficulties, which include conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder (disobedience towards authority figures), ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and verbal IQ.
Speaking about the findings, Dr Barker said:
‘The findings of our study suggest that both depression and anxiety, as well as risks associated to psychopathology in the mother, are top level priorities for interventions that seek to decrease maladjustment in children.'
- The paper, ‘The Contribution of Prenatal and Postnatal Maternal Anxiety and Depression to Child Maladjustment’ by Edward Barker et al is available online ahead of print in
Depression and Anxietyand can be downloaded here DOI: 10.1002/da.20856.
- Dr Ted Barker is available for interview. Please contact Lindsay Wright in the Birkbeck press office on 020 7380 3133 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Maternal depression and anxiety (assessed when the woman was eight months’ pregnant and again when her child was one and a half) were assessed using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale and the Crown Crisp Index respectively.
- The child’s behaviour at ages seven and eight was measured by parents and teachers using the Development and Well-Being Assessment (DAWBA), a well-validated measure developed for the British Child Mental Health surveys, and looked at conditions including depression and anxiety, bad behaviour and ADHD.
- The child’s verbal ability was assessed by trained observers using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (Third Edition) (WISC-III) when the children were eight years’ old.
- Based at the University of Bristol, Children of the 90s is a long-term health research project that enrolled more than 14,000 pregnant women in 1991 and 1992. It has been following the health and development of the children and their parents in great detail ever since. Find out more about the project on YouTube. Film courtesy of the Wellcome Trust.
- Founded in 1823, Birkbeck has an unparalleled track record of successfully teaching mature students part-time, face-to-face in the evenings. Birkbeck enables 19,000 students from diverse social and educational backgrounds to participate in a broad range of higher education. Renowned for its world class research, it is a vibrant centre of academic excellence, and over 90 per cent of Birkbeck academics are research active.