Background and objectives: Maternal reports of child behavior are often the sole criterion by which childhood psychiatric disorders are diagnosed and treated, even though maternal distress or psychopathology may influence the accuracy of these reports. This study examines the effect of maternal depression and the impact of its treatment on reported behavior in the depressed women's children.
Methods: A total of 24 women with newly diagnosed major depressive disorder completed a self-rated Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and a Conners' Parent Rating Scale (CPRS) of child behavior prior to and after 1-2 months of antidepressant treatment.
Results: During antidepressant treatment, mean maternal BDI declined by 53%, while mean CPRS score decreased by 20%; these improvements were significantly correlated. Changes in the conduct, learning problem, and impulsive-hyperactive CPRS-subscale scores accounted for 89% of the rated behavioral change.
Conclusions: Reported behavior problems in the children of depressed mothers improved with treatment of the maternal depression, and the degree of reported behavioral improvement was highly correlated with the degree of improvement in depressive symptoms. Maternal depression must therefore be considered in the differential diagnosis of any child being evaluated for behavior or emotional problems.