Increased risk of mental illness among children with depressed mothers who have co-occurring problems
Adolescent children of mothers with recurrent
depression and other mental health problems are at higher risk of
developing mental health problems than children of mothers with
recurrent depression alone, according to a new study in the British
Journal of Psychiatry.
Previous research indicates that the children
of mothers with depression are two to five times more likely to
develop mental health problems compared to the children of mothers
without the illness.
However, the new study used information from a
longitudinal study of 223 mothers from South Wales with recurrent
depression to examine whether co-occurring problems, such as
anxiety, anti-social behaviour or harmful drinking, further
increased the risk of mental health problems in their children.
The mothers had been treated for at least two
previous episodes of depression and were interviewed, usually at
home, at the start of the study in 2007. The children comprised 132
girls and 91 boys aged 9 to 17, with an average age of 12, and were
interviewed separately. Mothers and children were interviewed
on a further two occasions, ending in 2011, to examine how
children’s mental health changed over the course of the study.
At the start of the study, 40% of the mothers
had one or more problems in addition to recurring depression, and
73 children (23%) had a mental health problem, compared with a
national average of 11.5% for children aged 11-16.
Among the children who had no mental health
problems at the start of the study, 21% experienced problems during
the follow up, which consisted of two further assessments, ending
The study found that rates of new mental
health problems in children increased from 15.7% to 34.8%,
depending on the number of additional clinical problems in their
mothers. More than half of the new mental health problems in
children occurred in the group whose mothers had depression with
other clinical problems. The kind of problems experienced by the
children included depression, anxiety and disruptive behaviour
The authors’ conclude: “Co-occurring
psychopathology in mothers was a strong predictor of future
disorders in offspring.”
In the discussion, the authors say that the
mechanism by which mothers’ additional problems may have an impact
on their children’s mental health is, however, unclear.
In conclusion, the study highlights the
importance of clinicians recognising other problems in mothers with
depression. It says that families with a mother who has recurring
depression and other mental health problems “should be prioritised
for prevention and early intervention.”
For further information please contact
Gary Ward, Temporary Media & Communications Manager, Royal
College of Psychiatrists.
Tel: 020 7235 2351 ext 6298;