New research suggests the mental well-being of both parents, and especially the mother, should be monitored during pregnancy and after the birth of the child. In the study, Finnish researchers discovered that even mild long-term depressive symptoms among mothers is connected with emotional problems among small children.
Researchers investigated how the depressive symptoms of both parents affected the child by the age of two and five. They discovered that mild maternal depressions were linked to emotional problems in children including hyperactivity, aggressiveness and anxiety.
A father’s depressive symptoms affected the child’s emotional problems only if the mother was depressed as well. The mother’s symptoms, however, affected the child even if the father was not depressed.
In Finland, moderate depressive symptoms can be observed in over 20 percent of parents. Most serious symptoms are seen in less than 9 percent of mothers and around 2.5 percent of fathers.
“Depression among parents both during and after pregnancy not only affects the person suffering from depression but also has a long-term impact on the well-being of the newborn child.
Even in cases of mild depression, it is important that the symptoms are identified and the parents are offered support as early as possible, if necessary already during the pregnancy,” said Dr. Johanna Pietikäinen, the lead researcher from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).
“In families, depression experienced by the mother has a key impact on the child’s well-being. In Finland, the maternity clinic system functions well, but attention should be paid to depressive symptoms among mothers over a longer period: from the pregnancy through to the end of the child’s first year of age,” she adds.
Another relevant finding was the observation that the depression of one parent is a factor that can put the other parent at risk of depression as well.
Moreover, depressive symptoms among mothers and fathers are quite long-term: they can start already during pregnancy and continue past the child’s first birthday.
“It is important to monitor the mental well-being of both parents during pregnancy and after the birth of the child, and if one parent shows symptoms of depression then the symptoms of the other parent should also be examined.
“Currently, however, fathers’ psychological well-being is not necessarily covered by depression questionnaires in maternity clinics, for example,” Pietikäinen pointed.
The risk of long-term depression is heightened if a parent has experienced depression before the pregnancy. Previous experience of depression was, in fact, one of the key risk factors for moderate or severe depressive symptoms.
Other significant risk factors included sleep deprivation during pregnancy, stress, anxiety and a bad family environment. These most prominent risk factors were predictors for depression among both mothers and fathers.