New Study Identifies Stress Generation Pathway in Mothers and Children

Existing research has identified a clear link between depression and stress in children of depressed mothers. Additionally, research has shown that stressful environmental conditions can also increase the chance of depression in children. But until recently, few studies have looked at the stress generation pathway through which stressors directly predict depression and stress in children of depressed mothers compared to children of nondepressed mothers. To explore this relationship further and examine gender differences in this pathway, Constance L. Hammen, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California Los Angeles examined data from a 20-year study involving 705 families.

Hammen followed the mothers while they were pregnant and interviewed them several times through their child’s 5th birthday. She evaluated the stressful conditions of the environment, levels of maternal depression, and other adversities. As the children matured, Hammen continued to assess them for depression and stress until they reached age 20.

Hammen’s study revealed several interesting findings. As evidenced from previous research, Hammen found that difficult life conditions during early childhood predicted extreme stress in adulthood. She also found that chronic stress in adolescence was a significant risk factor for chronic stress in adulthood. With regards to depression, the study revealed that adolescent depression predicted adult stress and adolescent stress predicted adult depression. Hammen believes that maternal depression may contribute to early life stressors for children. These experiences can make children more vulnerable to later stressful situations in life by way of poor academic, environmental, or behavioral choices. Hammen did, however, find a difference in the gender pathway. Specifically, girls were more likely than boys to be depressed, regardless of the mental health of their mothers. However, maternal depression directly increased the risk for depression in the boys. Hammen believes that many of these children enter adulthood with a history that predisposes their offspring for mental health problems. She added, “Youth with histories of maternal depression, stress, and depression reach their childbearing years at risk for further depression, potentially recreating the cycle with the next generation.” The findings clearly demonstrate the need for addressing and preventing the perpetuation of stress and depression in those individuals most at risk.

Hammen, C. L., Hazel, N. A., Brennan, P. A., Najman, J. (2012). Intergenerational transmission and continuity of stress and depression: Depressed women and their offspring in 20 years of follow-up. Psychological Assessment 42.5, 931-942.

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  • Priscilla


    May 4th, 2012 at 11:16 AM

    I have often wondered about this and while I believe it to some extent to be true, we can’t go around blaming the moms for everything you know.
    Think of how terrible this will make many mothers feel, to think that they are the cause of their children’s depression.
    I don’t think that there is a mother out there who wants to think that something that they did could contribute to their child feeling this way.
    So while I do think that it is valuable to have this kind of information, I also believe that you have to share this with someone in a way that will not hurt their feelings and will not make her feel like you are pointing fingers and assigning blame.

  • Lorna davis

    Lorna davis

    May 4th, 2012 at 2:37 PM

    Hello parents:
    Are you out there listening and reading this?
    The things we do have a direct impact on our children.
    How are so many people missing that one?
    They think that they can do whatever they want and that the kids will be alright.
    Proof positive is right here- that’s not always true

  • StacyL


    May 5th, 2012 at 4:41 AM

    If you are planning to have a child please only do so after you are certain that 1. You want to have a baby, and 2. That you have a stable and sound home life to raise this baby in.

    This 20 year study shows us conclusively, as if we didn’t really already know, that the environment in which the children develop, live, learn, and grow are critucal markers of who this child will be and how much they will be able to succeed. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to take any chances. I want only the best for my baby, and to have every opportunity available.

  • Harrison


    May 6th, 2012 at 5:28 AM

    I have known since the moment when I was old enough to begin developing memories that my mother really did not want me. It was an accident that she got preganant and she was depressed about becoming a mother the entire nine months, and beyond. Having me made things no better. And i guess I kind of understand because she was young and alone and really had no one to go to for help. But she made sure that I always knew that and she never let me forget the sacrifices that she claims she made for me. And I respect her for that- she gave me life. But what I don’t understand was that urge of hers to tear me down for the mistakes that she made. They weren’t my fault and I didn’t ask for it, but here I am saddled with so much of her baggage that she gave me before I was even born. I have been in therapy for quite some time over all of this and the multitude of issues that I worry with as a result, and I still have that little bit of deep animosity in me that wants to ask why she chose to punish me for things that happened before I was even alive?

  • S.M


    May 7th, 2012 at 11:56 PM

    They often relate stress and depression and yes the two are present together in a lot of people.But doesn’t stress have to do with fretting about things a lot and depression something of being low and not really being concerned about things? they seem quite opposite in nature and yet occur together. Any explanations from the experts please?

  • depression symptoms

    depression symptoms

    June 12th, 2012 at 4:29 AM

    nice and informative blog
    thanks for sharing

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on