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Depressed Mothers Increase Risk of Depressed Preschoolers

By Leslie Davis

About 15 percent of preschool children have high levels of depression and anxiety, according to a recent study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. While difficult temperament at 5 months was the most important predictor of depression and anxiety in children, the children surveyed were also more likely to have mothers with a history of depression.

“We found that lifetime maternal depression was the second most important predictor of atypically high depressive and anxiety problems during preschool years,” said lead author Dr. Sylvana M. Côté, a professor at the University of Montreal’s Department of Social and Preventive Medicine. “Our study is the first to show that infant temperament and lifetime maternal depression can lead to a high trajectory of depressive and anxiety problems before school entry.”

The study was based on a five-year investigation of children ages 5 months to 5 years. The mothers of the children provided information on their children’s behavior and on family members to determine if the children exhibited signs of depression and anxiety. That information included finding out if the children appeared worried, high strung, nervous or anxious.

Does Your Child Have Depression or Anxiety?

Given the age of preschoolers, it is not exactly easy to ask them if they are depressed or anxious and get an informative response. Determining if your child is depressed or anxious requires you to observe your child’s behaviors for the signs of mood disorders. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities they used on enjoy
  • Change in appetite
  • Loss of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Constantly sad or irritable

If your child is in school or daycare, it may be a good idea to check with your child’s teachers to see if they have noticed any changes in your child’s behavior. They may also provide another reason, such as trouble with a classmate, that explains why your child’s mood has changed.

If you think your preschooler is exhibiting signs of depression or anxiety, make an appointment with your doctor before the symptoms become any worse. Ignoring the symptoms can lead to long-term depression or anxiety that can continue into adulthood.

“It is critical that preventive interventions be experimented with infants who risk developing depressive and anxiety disorders,” Côté said. “Health professionals should target such high-risk children at infancy, as well as their parents, to have a long-term impact on their well-being.”

Don’t Be the Cause

Just as important as treating your child’s depression or anxiety is treating your own. A study by the Offord Centre for Child Studies found that successfully treating maternal depression can reduce or eliminate a child’s own symptoms of depression, anxiety and disruptive behaviors.

The study also showed that children whose depressed mothers recovered were less likely to develop psychiatric disorders than those whose mothers didn’t recover.

“Treating adults with depression reduces the likelihood that their children will suffer from conditions that disrupt their development and have long-term effects on their future,” said study researchers on the Offord website.

If you have been battling depression or anxiety, your mental health challenges may affect your children more than you think. Seeking help for your disorder through therapy or a residential treatment program can reduce the chance that your children will spend their own lives battling depression or anxiety.


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