Depression Prevalent In Mothers Of Poor Infants
WASHINGTON — Fifty-five percent of poor babies have mothers showing signs of depression ranging from mild to severe, according to a new Urban Institute study. Eleven percent of poor 9-month-old infants live with a mother suffering from severe depression symptoms. Among all infants nationally, the figures are 41 percent and seven percent, respectively.
The Urban Institute study, by Tracy Vericker, Jennifer Macomber, and Olivia Golden is the first national look at the characteristics, access to services, and parenting approaches of poor, depressed mothers with infants. The researchers point out that most of these families are connected to certain social services and health care providers, which presents a clear opportunity to help them.
“Infants of Depressed Mothers Living in Poverty: Opportunities to Identify and Serve” analyzes data from a U.S. Department of Education survey involving a nationally representative sample of 14,000 children born in 2001. Assessments of maternal depression were based on mothers’ responses to a modified version of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, which measures the frequency of depressive symptoms during the prior week. The mothers had not necessarily been diagnosed with clinical depression.
“Depression can interfere with parenting and compromise a child’s development—setbacks that are particularly devastating during infancy. It is crucial that depressed mothers also weighed down by poverty get the support and services that can help them and their children thrive,” says Tracy Vericker, the study’s lead researcher.
Poor infants with severely depressed mothers live in families that are likely to face other risks as well. For example:
- For 16 percent of them, their mothers say they were physically abused at some point during a 15-month period. This is eight times the rate for their peers with mothers without depression symptoms.
- For 14 percent of them, their mothers reported binge drinking in the month prior to the survey (compared with 6 percent of their peers with mothers who are not depressed).
Eighty-seven percent were breastfed for less than four months. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding at least through the first year of life, based on evidence that it protects infants against infection and lowers the risk of certain forms of breast and ovarian cancers.
Even though depression is treatable, only thirty percent of the severely depressed mothers spoke with a psychiatrist, psychologist, doctor, or counselor about a psychological problem in the year prior to being surveyed.
However, the analysis identifies important opportunities for the social service sector and health care providers to identify struggling mothers and help them obtain mental health services. Ninety-six percent of these infants live in a household where someone is receiving benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (often called WIC). Eighty-two percent of the infants live in a home where someone received Medicaid benefits in the past year. The infants had received on average six well-baby visits by the time they were 9-months old.
The recent health care reform legislation—which provides wider Medicaid coverage for low-income mothers and grants to states to expand home visiting programs to families with infants—offers additional ways to connect with and serve these families.
The research, conducted by the Urban Institute, was funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Future papers will identify service strategies to help connect depressed mothers with treatment in order to reduce child abuse and neglect.
The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization that examines the social, economic, and governance challenges facing the nation. It provides information, analyses, and perspectives to public and private decisionmakers to help them address these problems and strives to deepen citizens’ understanding of the issues and trade-offs that policymakers face.