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Last Updated: Oct 11, 2012 - 10:22:56 PM
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Latest Research : Psychiatry : Depression

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Depression in mothers linked to anti-social behaviour in children

Sep 22, 2004 - 10:42:00 PM

[RxPG] A new twin study has found that maternal depression is associated with child anti-social behaviour (ASB).

By the time the children of depressed mothers are seven, there is a significant relationship between the degree of maternal depression and the level of child ASB.

It is believed that children of depressed mothers have increased conduct problems, presumably because maternal depression can disrupt a mother';s ability to provide an adequate care-giving environment.

Alternatively, the association between maternal depression and child ASB may come about because a) some depressed women are likely to have anti-social personality traits that get passed onto their children; b) some depressed women are likely to mate with, and bear the children of, anti-social men; or c) children of depressed mothers inherit a genetic liability for psychological problems.

The aim of this study was to test whether the association between maternal depression and child ASB at the age of seven is still significant after making allowance for the influence of genetic risk and both parents'; history of anti-social personality disorder (ASPD) symptoms. ASPD symptoms include illegal behaviour, deceitfulness, aggression, and recklessness.

Data were gathered from the E-risk study, a representative group of 1116 twin pairs assessed at five and seven years of age. Mothers were interviewed about major depressive disorder symptoms and ASPD symptoms themselves and in their children';s fathers. Mothers and teachers also reported on children';s conduct problems.

It was found that diagnosable depression occurringin mothers after, but not before, the twins'; birth was associated with child ASB. The more chronic the mother';s depression, the worse the child ASB was at age seven.

Genetic factors, and parents'; history of ASPD, accounted for the majority of the observed association between maternal depression and child ASB.

However, maternal depression continued to predict child ASB significantly, even after taking into account genetic risk and parental ASPD symptoms. In other words, maternal depression is not only the cause of the children';s ASB, but one of several causes.

Mothers with both depression and ASBD symptoms were likely to provide less than satisfactory parenting, and their children had the highest levels of ASB.

The researchers conclude that studies ignoring genetic transmission overestimate social transmission effects, because both genetic and environmental processes are involved in creating risk for ASB in the children of depressed mothers.

Interventions for depressed mothers aiming to reduce conduct problems in their children should address parents' anti-social personality, as well as mothers' depression.

Publication: Royal College of Psychiatrists

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