Depression May Be
Caused By Environmental Factors in Childhood – Depressed Mothers May
Increase Risk of Health Problems In their Children
Mother Child Link
Reducing a mother’s depression within the first three months of
treatment lessens the chance of her children having psychiatric
disorders, according to a new study. Mothers may have more to do with
their children’s depression than we previously thought. The child’s
disorders may include mood or disruptive behavior disorders, within that
same time period.
According to new research presented at the JAMA media briefing on
women's health in New York, parental depression is among the most
consistent risk factors for childhood anxiety and disruptive behavior
disorders. There is a 2 to 3 fold increased risk in offspring of
depressed parents compared with control subjects.
This appears to be the first documented study that shows a relation
between remission of a mother's depression and her child's clinical
state. These findings are intriguing because they suggest that an
environmental influence (i.e., the impact of maternal depression
remission) had a measurable impact on the child's psychopathology.
Treatment of mothers may reverse symptoms of their children, according
to the researchers. The study authors wrote “Our studies suggest that a
reduction in stress associated with maternal remission may reverse the
long-standing symptoms in children who are likely to be genetically
vulnerable, although we have not genotyped the children in the study."
The psychological problems usually begin in puberty and continue into
adolescence and even adulthood. The researchers say these conditions
can be passed this way from generation to generation. Depression in the
mother may impair the long-term social and occupational functioning, and
increase the risk of “medical problems” in their children.
The researchers do not completely discount the genetic component in
depression. They say that “Although early onset major depression is
highly familial and has a strong genetic component, environmental
factors, such as disrupted parent-child attachment and poor parent-child
bonding may affect the impact of parental depression on children's
The study included 151 mother-child pairs who were part of the Sequenced
Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) trial. The STAR*D
program was conducted from December 2001 to April 2004. The children
were age 7 to 17 years and were assessed by a team of evaluators not
involved in maternal treatment and unaware of maternal outcomes.
The researchers found that after 3 months of treatment with medication
there was an 11 percent decrease in rates of diagnoses (from 35 percent
to 24 percent) in children of mothers in remission vs. an 8 percent
increase (from 35 percent to 43 percent) in children of mothers with
continuing depression. They found that of the offspring who had
psychiatric diagnoses at baseline and whose mother's depression
remitted, 33 percent of the children's own diagnoses had remitted,
whereas only 12 percent of the children of women whose depression
remained lost their diagnosis.
Of the Of the children who had no psychiatric disorder at baseline, all
remained free of psychiatric disorders at the 3-month follow-up if the
maternal depression remitted, whereas 17 percent of children of mothers
who remained depressed had an onset or relapse over this period.
In conclusion the researchers found that “"From a clinical vantage
point, our findings suggest that vigorous treatment of depressed mothers
to achieve remission is associated with positive outcomes in their
children as well, whereas failure to treat depressed mothers may
increase the burden of illness in their children. At a time when there
are many questions about the appropriate and safe treatment of
psychiatric disorders in children, these findings suggest that it is
important to provide vigorous treatment to mothers if they are
The lead author of the study was Myrna M. Weissman, Ph.D., of Columbia
University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute,
New York. The complete study appears in the March 22/29 issue of JAMA,
a theme issue on women's health.
By Dan Wilson
Books on the Mind
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