Children of depressed mothers are at increased risk for many different behavioral and mental health issues. Although not all mothers experience depression, a high percentage of mothers do experience some mood fluctuations after giving birth or some degree of postpartum depression. Depression severity has been studied in relation to childhood development at length. However, less is known about the trajectory of symptoms and if the chronicity of depressive symptoms has a larger impact on child behavior and development than the severity of symptoms.
To delve deeper into this area, Rolieke A.M. Cents of the Generation R. Study Group at Erasmus University Medical Centre in the Netherlands conducted a study involving 4,167 mothers and their children. He assessed the mothers’ depressive symptoms in their ninth month of pregnancy and again two, six, and 36 months after the children were born. Cents then gathered self-reports from either mothers or fathers highlighting their children’s behaviors at age three. Cents found that although symptom severity did fluctuate throughout the three years, the trajectory of depressive symptoms was a much stronger indicator of problem behavior in the children.
Overall, the majority (88%) of the mothers experienced low or no depressive symptoms, with 54% reporting low and 34% reporting no symptoms at all. Of the remaining women, 11% had moderate symptom trajectories and 1.5% had high or severe trajectories. It was these women who also had children with high levels of problematic behaviors, regardless of whether that behavior was reported by the mother or the father. Cents also found that even though many of the women experienced some increases in depressive symptoms during the first six months after giving birth, these increases were much more significant in the high-trajectory mothers. Overall, these results suggest that it is not only the symptom severity that impact how a child of a depressed mother will develop, but also the trajectory of the symptoms over time. Cent believes that studying trajectories can provide valuable information that cannot be obtained by looking only at severity. “Moreover, trajectories can help identifying clinically depressed mothers who are possible candidates for early interventions,” added Cent.
R, A. M. Cents, et al. Trajectories of maternal depressive symptoms predict child problem behaviour: The Generation R Study. Psychological medicine 43.1 (2013): 13-25. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
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