Low-Level Symptoms of Depression in Mothers of Young Children are Associated with Behavior Problems in Middle Childhood

Conners-Burrow, Nicola; McKelvey, Lorraine; Whiteside-Mansell, Leanne; Kraleti, Shashank; Mesman, Glenn; Holmes, Khiela; Kyzer, Angela; Perry, Deborah
March 2016
Maternal & Child Health Journal;Mar2016, Vol. 20 Issue 3, p516
Academic Journal
Objectives Examine the association between mothers' low- and high-level depressive symptoms in early childhood and children's behavior problems in middle childhood. Methods We used data from 1844 families in a multi-site, longitudinal study beginning when children were 14 months and continuing to age 11 years. Children's internalizing and externalizing behavior problems at age 11 were assessed using the child behavior checklist for ages 6-18. Mothers' scores on the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression Scale when children were 14 months were used to classify them into three groups: 'no depressive symptoms', 'low-level depressive symptoms (below the clinical cut-off)' and 'clinically significant depressive symptoms (above the clinical cut-off).' Results Mothers were racially/ethnically diverse, including Caucasian (38.9 %), African-American (34.4 %), Hispanic (21.6 %), or other (5.1 %). More than one-third (39.2 %) were teenaged mothers, and 46.0 % did not complete high school. Of the 1844 families, 1172 had age 11 child outcome data. Logistic regression analyses controlling for family demographics revealed a significant association between early maternal depressive symptoms and later child behavioral outcomes. Both low level and clinically significant symptoms were associated with internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. For example, children whose mothers had low-level depressive symptoms were twice as likely to have clinically elevated internalizing problems compared with children whose mothers never had symptoms of depression. Conclusions Children whose mothers experience low-level depressive symptoms early in their development have increased risk for later behavioral problems, suggesting a possible need for new screening and intervention strategies for mothers with lower than clinically elevated symptoms.


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