Background: The purposes of the present study were: 1) to assess the prevalence of depressive symptoms in mothers of young children in two Latin American countries (Costa Rica and Chile), and 2) to identify and compare socio-demographic correlates of depressive symptoms among those women.
Methods: Information on maternal depression and socio-demographic factors was available for three samples of women (total n = 1256). The samples were drawn from periurban communities that were relatively homogeneous with respect to lower-middle-class status and ethnic origin. Point prevalence of depressive symptomatology was assessed using the Center for Epidemiological Studies - Depression scale in all three samples. Lifetime prevalence of major depressive episodes was assessed in two Costa Rican samples by the Diagnostic Interview Schedule. Finally, episodes of dysphoric mood following childbirth were assessed by interview in the Costa Rican samples.
Results: Although the three samples differed on nearly all socio-demographic measures, rates of depression were comparable - 35% to 50% of the mothers had experienced at least one episode of major depression or were experiencing severe dysphoric mood at the time of the evaluation. In addition, one-third of the Costa Rican mothers had experienced dysphoric mood following delivery of a child.
Conclusions: The present study indicates that the high prevalence of depression in the mothers of young children is present in developing as well as industrialized countries and represents a major public health hazard. Future cross-cultural studies of maternal depression will require methodologies that are sensitive both to contextual factors in which depressive affect is expressed and individual histories that follow the course and etiology of depressive disorders as a chronic, recurrent illness in women during the childbearing and child-rearing years.