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, says a new study.
Dr Edward Barker at Birkbeck College and colleagues at King’s College London say the effect of risk factors on children that are associated with depressive illnesses in the mother, have, to date, received little attention. They add that, although post natal depression is now widely recognised 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. The researchers believe doing so could have significant benefits for both mother and child.
They studied almost 3,300 mothers and their children in the Children of the 90s study at the University of Bristol. The research is 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 internalising problems, which include both anxiety and depression, whereas depression resulted in what are known as externalising difficulties, which include behavioural problems, disobedience towards authority figures and ADHD.
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.”