Moreover, the risk persists into adolescence and includes an increased risk of depressive symptoms.
“The findings emphasize the importance of health professionals spotting mental health problems in the mother and/or the child as early as possible, for example when the child attends their regular health checkups at the health clinic in the early years,” says Wendy Nilsen, Ph.D., lead author of the paper.
The study is published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.
In Norway, mothers bring their children to health clinics for checkups. The clinics are a meeting point for more than 95 per cent of all Norwegian families with young children.
“This gives health professionals a unique opportunity to introduce early preventive measures against the development of mental health problems,” says Nilsen.
Researchers found that when the mother reported high levels of anxiety and depression symptoms early in the children’s lives, the children had a higher risk of emotional and disruptive problem behaviors during their childhood.
In addition, the children had a higher risk of reporting depressive symptoms later on when they were a teenager.
The researchers also discovered that there was was a tendency for disruptive problem behaviors to be a risk factor for later emotional problems, but not vice versa.
There was little difference found between boys and girls studied. However, the researchers reported a tendency for problem behaviors in early school age (around 8 years old) to be associated with later problems in adolescence for girls, but not for boys.
The results support former findings that highlight early prevention and intervention.
“This is particularly important when the mother has reported high anxiety and depressive symptoms in the child’s first two years of life. These children had a higher risk of more depressive symptoms in adolescence. Problem behaviors in early life were also associated with later problems in adolescence,” Nilsen said.
The study also highlights the importance of research that follows children and their families from early childhood to adolescence.
“In this way we can gain knowledge about early traits of children and families that increase the likelihood of later mental health problems. This is important knowledge,” said Nilsen.
In the study, researchers wanted to examine whether and how maternal mental health and children’s disruptive and emotional problems affected each other.
They also wanted to examine how these factors from childhood to early adolescence were associated with the adolescents’ self-reported depressive symptoms during adolescence and whether there were gender differences.
The study uses Norwegian mothers’ self-reports of their own mental health and their children’s problem behaviors (both disruptive and emotional) at five different ages from early childhood (18 months) to early adolescence (12.5 years). Questionnaire data from the adolescents are from 14.5 years and 16.5 years old.