A new study released by The Urban Institute reveals that more than half of infants living in poverty are being raised by mothers suffering from depression.
Considered the first detailed look of its kind at this specific issue, the statistics from the study have raised alarm in a number of industry circles as public mental health dollars have faced hefty cuts in recent years.
Lack of public dollars makes access to care more challenging for low-income parents who typically do not have insurance coverage for mental health needs, industry professionals say.
Specifically, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggested that many children and mothers may face an uphill challenge to appropriate relational development if access to care is not more readily available.
“During a time of national economic distress and severe budget cuts in mental health services, the Urban Institute study raises concern about the urgency of the needs of women and children,” said NAMI Executive Director Michael J. Fitzpatrick.
Because many of the identified mothers are already receiving public services such as WIC or food stamps, the study noted that there should be an opportunity for policymakers and service providers to identify potential mental health needs and connect mothers to needed services.
The study found that currently, about 70 percent of mothers who fall under the poverty line go without treatment, and only 30 percent have access to a mental health professional even once over a year’s timeframe.
Findings also revealed that low-income mothers suffering from depression were less likely to breastfeed their infants for the first year of life as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In fact, 87 percent of the identified group breastfed for four months or less.
Problems with either mild or severe depression were not weighted with just low-income mothers. Findings revealed that 41 percent of mothers across all age and income brackets reported some symptoms of depression, and 7 percent reported severe symptoms.
The study suggested social services agencies should look for opportunities to connect mothers displaying signs of depression to appropriate services. More insurance for mental health care should become available through the upcoming health care overhaul for low-income mothers who did not have access to these services before, the report added.
Researchers conducted the study through a nationally representative sample of 14,000 children born in 2001. Mothers were interviewed when their babies were nine months old.
Most of the low-income mothers interviewed were identified to be in their early 20s. Forty-four percent were Caucasian, 30 percent were African American and 21 percent Hispanic.
The study was funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation as part of an Urban Institute project to identify and connect depressed mothers with treatment options.
Other NAMI studies have found that one in eight women experiences depression regardless of income. This statistic is twice the rate of men.
Middle-aged Hispanic women have been identified as the group having the highest rate of depression symptoms, and African American women have the greatest severity and persistence of symptoms.
NAMI findings reveal that a postpartum mother who experiences depression will have a 70 percent chance of the symptoms recurring.