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Mom's Clinical Depression Risky to Kids

Even Brief Major Episode Linked to Child Depression
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WebMD Health News

March 10, 2003 -- A mother's clinical depression -- even if brief -- doubles her children's risk of their own depression. But mild depression of less than a year doesn't seem to do any harm.

The findings come from a study of 816 Australian women and their 15-year-old children. The women and children underwent psychological testing and interviews. Researchers looked at the severity and timing of the women's clinical depression during the first 10 years of their children's lives. They also looked at the children's mental health up to age 15.

Constance Hammen, PhD of the University of California in Los Angeles, and Patricia A. Brennan, PhD of Emory University in Atlanta, report the results in the March 2003 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

The findings:

  • Children whose mothers had a clinical depression episode -- even if it lasted only one or two months -- had twice the risk of depression as children of never-depressed mothers (20% risk vs. 10% risk).
  • A mother's clinical depression had the same effect no matter when during the child's life it occurred.
  • Children whose mothers had minor depression -- even if it lasted up to a year -- had no increased risk of clinical depression.
  • Mothers' mild depression of more than a year increased children's' risk of clinical depression.
  • Children of depressed women had increased risk of other psychological problems besides clinical depression.

Hammen and Brennan note that the study shows that mothers' depression is a serious concern. Early diagnosis and treatment of clinical depression would benefit not only women, but their children as well.

"[We] need to increase our efforts to reach parents who are reluctant to seek treatment," they conclude. "At the same time, [the study] may reassure those who have been worried that mild but brief periods of depression are harmful."

The researchers note that this report focused only on mothers and did not analyze the effects of fathers' psychological problems.

SOURCE: Archives of General Psychiatry, March 2003.

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