Depression in Mothers Linked to Anxiety and Depression in Kids?

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Depression in Mothers Linked to Anxiety and Depression in Kids?     

Jim Windell

            We know that a mother’s postpartum depression can have a lasting effect on the long-term psychological health and behavior of children. But what if the mother is not necessarily diagnosed with postpartum depression? Can a mother’s depression lead to negative mental health outcomes for children?

            These questions were addressed in a study reported recently in the Journal of Affective Disorders. In particular, researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, did a secondary analysis of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. The Fragile Families study (as it has been called) began at Princeton University and Columbia University between 1998 and 2000 to study the outcomes of familial relationships of unmarried parents on their offspring. The large population-based sample used in the Fragile Families study has allowed researchers across the U.S. to gain insights into various family and relationship dynamics.

            This analysis, carried out by researchers with Cizik School of Nursing at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, investigated mother and child mental health symptoms over a 10-year period. The idea was to learn mo0re about the development of depression and anxiety among families.

          Results found in the analysis point to parental stress, or the processes and subsequent reactions that result from attempting to manage the challenges and burdens of parenthood, as the factor that partially links maternal depression and child anxiety and depressive symptoms. In effect, the researchers found a bi-directional relationship in which a mother's mental health symptoms impacted the child's mental health symptoms and vice versa. But, overall, they found that parental stress is a contributing factor linking maternal depression to child anxiety and depressive symptoms.

          According to Daphne Hernandez, PhD, associate professor and Lee and Joseph Jamail Distinguished Professor in the School of Nursing and senior author on the study, “By focusing on mother-child duos, we identified that maternal depression at an earlier time point predicted child anxiety and depressive symptoms at a later time point. Further, children who experienced anxiety and depressive symptoms at an earlier time point were more likely to have mothers who experienced depression at later time points.”

          Mothers who are depressed may have increased feelings of being overwhelmed with the parenting role. This, then, contributes to hostility and lack of warmth in the family environment, according to the researchers. The lack of warmth could affect a child's mental health negatively.

          These findings may help guide mental health treatments for families where both mothers and children are experiencing anxiety and depression. Perhaps, Hernandez said, a dual intervention approach is need.  “A dual intervention, where both mother and child are receiving treatment together, in addition to their separate treatment plans, may be a successful approach for families where mothers and children exhibit symptoms of anxiety and depression.”

          However, Hernandez pointed out, implementing strategies to lower parental stress is vital.

          To read the original article, find it with this reference:

Daundasekara, S.S., Beauchamp, J.E.S. & Hernandez, D.C. (2021). Parenting stress mediates the longitudinal effect of maternal depression on child anxiety/depressive symptoms. Journal of Affective Disorders, 295: 33 DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2021.08.002


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