Background: Depression is familial. Evidence shows that untreated postnatal depression is associated with adverse outcomes for the child. Few studies have traced prospectively the course of maternal depression through pregnancy, the postnatal period and the following 16 years in relation to adolescent offspring depression.
Method: The sample was recruited from two general practice antenatal clinics. Of 151 mother-child dyads followed from pregnancy to 16 years, information on the course of maternal depression and on depression in adolescent offspring was available for 127 (84%).
Results: Two-thirds (82/125) of the women had been depressed during the 17-year time period, with the majority (54/82) experiencing more than one episode. A third of the women were depressed in pregnancy (41/124). Over half of these women (23/41) had consulted a doctor about their mental health prior to being pregnant and almost 90% (35/39) had further episodes during the child's lifetime. 14% (18/127) of the adolescent offspring were diagnosed with a depressive disorder at 16 years. Every depressed adolescent had been exposed to maternal depression. The risk of depression for the 16-year-olds exposed to antenatal depression was 4.7 times greater than for offspring not so exposed. The effect of antenatal depression was mediated by repeated exposure.
Limitations: The number of study participants is small and limited to an inner-city population. Only depression spectrum diagnoses in the adolescent offspring have been considered.
Conclusions: Detection of depression in pregnancy identifies mothers at risk of further depressive episodes and a group of children who are at risk of depression in adolescence.