Risky health behavior more likely in children whose moms are depressed

Risky health behavior more likely in children whose moms are depressed
Risky health behavior more likely in children whose moms are depressed

According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, depressive disorders affect 8% of residents in the county. The rate is higher in females (11%) than males (7%). Many of these women are moms and a new study has found that children of mothers with a depressive disorder are more likely to engage in risky health behavior. The study was published online on December 22 in the journal Pediatrics by researchers at the University of Alberta (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) and the University of Ottawa (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada).

The study authors note that it is known that maternal depression is a risk factor for adolescent depression; however, the effect of exposure during childhood to maternal depression on teen participation in health risk behaviors such as substance use and delinquency is unclear. Therefore, they assessed the relationship between maternal depressive symptoms (child’s age 4 through 15) and participation in health risk behaviors at age 16 to 17. For the study, they reviewed data from 2,910 mother–child pairs in a nationally representative sample of Canadian residents. Maternal depression was estimated via statistical analysis. Risky health behaviors was assessed by the children’s age.

The investigators found five courses of maternal depressive symptoms were noted: recurrent maternal symptoms, mid-childhood exposure to maternal symptoms, teen exposure to maternal symptoms, mild maternal symptoms, and low symptoms. Teens exposed to maternal depressive symptoms during middle childhood were more likely to engage in abuse of substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana. In addition, the children were more likely to engage in violent and nonviolent delinquent behavior, and begin the use of substances such as cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, and hallucinogens at an earlier age than children of mothers without depression.

The authors concluded that their study suggested that exposure to maternal depressive symptoms, particularly in middle childhood, is related to greater and earlier engagement in risky health behaviors.

Depressive disorders include unipolar include major depression, dysthymia (a less severe, longer-lasting form of depression), and bipolar disorders (manic-depressive illness). Unipolar major depression affects more than 50 million individuals worldwide and is expected to be the second leading cause of premature death and disability by 2020, based on a measure called disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). DALYs measure years of healthy life lost to premature death and disability. In 1998, unipolar major depression was the third leading cause of premature death and disability in Los Angeles County based on DALYs.

Depressive disorders have profound effects on individuals, families, and society. They impair social and occupational functioning, resulting in lost productivity at the workplace, school, and at home. The annual costs of depressive disorders in the United States are extremely high, comparable to that of heart disease. Depressive disorders greatly increase the risk for suicide, and often co-occur with other medical illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.


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