Mom's Mental Health Woes Can Pass to Kids

Research shows higher rates of ADHD, other troubles, in children of ill or abused mothers

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TUESDAY, May 2, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- The children of mothers who have mental health, substance abuse or domestic violence problems a year after delivery are more likely to experience behavioral problems at age 3, a U.S. study finds.

In their three-year study, researchers at Mathematica Policy Research Inc., in Princeton, N.J., followed nearly 2,800 children born in 18 large U.S. cities.

A year after delivery, half the mothers had a condition in at least one of the three categories -- mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence -- and 22 percent of the children had at least one type of behavior problem such as aggression, anxiety-depression, or inattention/hyperactivity. The more problems reported by a mother, the more likely her child was to develop behavior problems by age 3.

The study also found that when mothers reported difficulties in zero, one, two, or three areas, reports of aggression among their children at age 3 increased from 7 percent to 12 percent to 17 percent to 19 percent, respectively; anxiety and depression increased from 9 percent to 14 percent to 16 percent to 27 percent; and inattention/hyperactivity increased from 7 percent to 12 percent to 15 percent to 19 percent.

The authors noted that mothers' mental health problems, substance abuse and domestic violence tend to accompany each other and have cumulative negative effects on children.

However, "there is evidence that mothers appear open to empathic inquiries about how they are doing, and that mothers also understand that their own well-being is related to that of their children," the study authors wrote.

"Whether a clinician is focused primarily on the care of children, adults or pregnant women, there is the potential to help disrupt this intergenerational transmission of poor health," they concluded.

The study appears in the May issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about children's behavior.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, May 1, 2006

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