Preschoolers whose parents suffer from depression and intimate partner violence are at greater risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by age 6, according to new research.
The study also found that young children with depressed mothers may be more likely to take prescription drugs for behavioral and mental health issues later on.
“Our study indicates that preschoolers who are diagnosed with ADHD are more likely to have been exposed to both intimate partner violence and parental depression within the first three years of life than their peers not exposed to either risk factor,” said study author Dr. Nerissa Bauer, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, in Indianapolis.
“There has been increasing awareness that certain psychosocial risk factors can impact the behavioral presentation of children at very young ages,” she said. Still, not all children who are exposed to maternal depression and intimate partner violence will develop ADHD, she noted.
“There are other factors that can be associated with a child’s higher likelihood of being diagnosed with ADHD, including a family history of ADHD,” Bauer explained.
ADHD symptoms include impulsiveness, hyperactivity and difficulty focusing. People with ADHD may have difficulty in school, holding down jobs and sustaining relationships and are at greater risk for alcohol or substance abuse, depression and anxiety disorders.
“Pediatricians and family practitioners know to routinely screen for the presence of these psychosocial risk factors because of the potential negative effects on the child,” Bauer said. “Families who experience intimate partner violence will need help, not only to make sure the victims stay safe from physical harm, but there [are] also psychological effects.”
The study included over 2,400 three-year-old children whose parents completed questionnaires regarding their personal history of depression and domestic violence.
The findings revealed that children who were exposed to intimate partner violence and/or parental depression were four times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD by the age of 6.
Almost 3 percent of kids whose parents reported depression received prescription drugs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, compared with 1.6 percent of children whose parents did not report a history of depression. Medications included those that treat anxiety, depression and sleep problems.
While the study showed an association, it did not prove a cause-and-effect link between intimate partner violence and/or maternal depression and likelihood of an ADHD diagnosis.
“This study adds to the already robust literature revealing that early life experiences can have profound effects on brain development,” said Dr. Michael Duchowny, a pediatric neurologist at Miami Children’s Hospital.
“While heredity is known to play a strong role in the expression of ADHD symptoms, the study further suggests that additional environmental factors operating during the formative years of brain maturation are also significant.”
Source: JAMA Pediatrics