Maternal Depression Linked to Risky Behavior in Kids

Deborah Brauser

January 06, 2015

Maternal depression during an offspring's childhood is significantly associated with risky health behaviors during adolescence, new research suggests.

Dr Ian Colman

A study of almost 3000 mother-adolescent pairs showed significantly more "delinquent behaviors," including smoking, violence, and alcohol and illicit drug use, in offspring of women who suffered from depression when their children were 6 to 10 years of age.

Interestingly, there were no significant associations between maternal depressive symptoms during a child's adolescence and subsequent delinquent behaviors.

"We expected that adolescents who had mothers who were depressed...would be most likely to be engaging in risky health behaviors since those children may be missing both the supervision and support that a parent can offer during an emotional time," principal investigator Ian Colman, PhD, Canada Research Chair in mental health epidemiology and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, told Medscape Medical News.

"So we were surprised to see that maternal depression when the child was aged 6 to 10 was actually more strongly associated with those risky health behaviors," he added.

Dr Colman noted that the study's key clinical point is that maternal mental health is important throughout a child's life.

"Not providing appropriate support and treatment for possible maternal mental illness may have consequences for their children."

The study is published in the January issue of Pediatrics.

Lack of Parental Support

The investigators examined data on 2910 mother-youth pairs who resided in Canada and who took part in the country's National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth.

All of the participating children were between 2 and 5 years of age from 1994 to 1995 and were followed until the age of 16 or 17 years. Mothers filled out a variety of questionnaires about themselves, their spouses, and their offspring. Children self-reported their information, including past-year risky health behaviors, when they were between the ages of 10 and 11 years.

The shortened version of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale was used to determine maternal depression symptoms when the children were between the ages of 4 and 15 years.

All children were divided into five trajectory subgroups: the stable, low-exposure reference group (47.9%), the mild maternal depressive symptoms group (36%), the maternal depressive symptoms only during adolescence group (10.4%), the maternal depressive symptoms during mid childhood group 4(4.0%), and the recurrent maternal depressive symptoms group (1.7%).

Results showed that the adolescents exposed to maternal depressive symptoms during mid childhood had numerous delinquent behaviors. In fact, this was the only exposure group to show significantly higher scores for use of common substances, including cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana, than the low-exposure reference group (P = .005).

They were also significantly more likely to engage in both violent (P = .02) and nonviolent delinquent behaviors (P = .03) compared with the low-exposure group and to use illicit substances such hallucinogens or crack/cocaine (P < .05).

The recurrent maternal depressive symptoms group only had significantly higher scores for nonviolent delinquent behaviors, such as stealing or destruction of property, compared with the low- exposure group (P = .01).

Finally, the mid childhood exposure group started using cigarettes at an earlier age (hazard ratio [HR], 2.15; P < .005), as well as alcohol, marijuana, and hallucinogens (HRs, 1.43, 1.91, and 3.51, respectively; all, P < .05) compared with the low-exposure group.

Dr Colman noted that the findings suggest that parenting factors during middle childhood could predispose adolescents to future harmful behaviors.

"Aged 6 to 10 may be an important time because this is when children are developing quickly in terms of emotional regulation and maintaining healthy social relationships. Parents are very important in providing support during this developmental period," he said.

"I think the next step is to investigate whether interventions to prevent and/or treat maternal depression will actually change behavior in their adolescents."

The study authors have reported no relevant financial relationships.

Pediatrics. 2015;135:59-67. Abstract

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