Depression in Young Mothers Can Lead to the Lower Cognitive Development of Their Children

A new study led by researchers at the University of California, San Diego finds that young mothers who suffer from depression can have a negative impact on their child’s cognitive development.

Researchers surveyed approximately 900 healthy children and their mothers at five-year intervals from the child’s infancy through age 16. They observed how affectionate and responsive mothers were to their children at each age period, as well as how much mothers provided age-appropriate learning materials. Children were assessed on verbal cognitive abilities using standardized IQ tests during each assessment. Mothers were tested for symptoms of depression.

“We found that mothers who were highly depressed didn’t invest emotionally or in providing learning materials to support their child, such as toys and books, as much as mothers who were not depressed. This, in turn, impacted the child’s IQ at ages 1, 5, 10 and 16,” said Patricia East, a lead author of the study and research scientist with the department of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

“For health care providers, the results show that early identification, intervention and treatment of maternal depression are key,” said Dr. East. “Providing resources to depressed moms will help them manage their symptoms in a productive way and ensure their children reach their full potential.”

Dr. East is a graduate of the University of Denver, where she majored in psychology. She earned a Ph.D. in human development and family studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

The paper, “Associations Among Mothers’ Depression, Emotional and Learning‐Material Support to Their Child, and Children’s Cognitive Functioning: A 16‐Year Longitudinal Study,” was published on the website of the journal Child Development. It may be accessed here.

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