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Relative impact of maternal depression and associated risk factors on offspring psychopathology

  • Edward D. Barker (a1), William Copeland (a2), Barbara Maughan (a3), Sara R. Jaffee (a3) and Rudolf Uher (a3)...
Abstract
Background

In general, mothers with depression experience more environmental and family risk factors, and lead riskier lifestyles, than mothers who are not depressed.

Aims

To test whether the exposure of a child to risk factors associated with mental health adds to the prediction of child psychopathology beyond exposure to maternal depression.

Method

In 7429 mother–offspring pairs participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in the UK, maternal depression was assessed when the children were aged 1.5 years; multiple risk factor exposures were examined between birth and 2 years of age; and DSM-IV-based externalising and internalising diagnoses were evaluated when the children were 7.5 years of age.

Results

Children of clinically depressed mothers were exposed to more risk factors associated with maternal mental health. Maternal depression increased diagnoses of externalising and internalising disorders, but a substantial portion of these associations was explained by increased risk factor exposure (41% for externalising and 37% for internalising disorders). At the same time, these risk exposures significantly increased the odds of both externalising and internalising diagnoses, over and above the influence of maternal depression.

Conclusions

Children of clinically depressed mothers are exposed to both maternal psychopathology and risks that are associated with maternal mental health. These results may explain why treating mothers with depression shows beneficial effects for children, but does not completely neutralise the increased risk of psychopathology and impairment.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Edward D. Barker, Department of Psychological Science, Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street; London WC1E 7AX, UK. Email: t.barker@bbk.ac.uk
Footnotes
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Declaration of interest

None.

Footnotes
References
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Relative impact of maternal depression and associated risk factors on offspring psychopathology

  • Edward D. Barker (a1), William Copeland (a2), Barbara Maughan (a3), Sara R. Jaffee (a3) and Rudolf Uher (a3)...
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