Children of low-income depressed mothers: psychiatric disorders and social adjustment

Depress Anxiety. 2009;26(6):513-20. doi: 10.1002/da.20522.


Background: Although several studies have documented a higher prevalence of psychiatric disorders in children of depressed than nondepressed parents, previous research was conducted in predominantly White, middle, or upper-middle class populations. Only limited information is available on psychiatric disorders and psychosocial functioning in children of low-income depressed mothers.

Methods: We report the findings in children of mothers with and without a lifetime history of major depressive disorder, who were recruited from a large urban primary-care practice. Bilingual clinical interviewers assessed 58 children with structured diagnostic interviews administered to most children (90%) and to their mothers as informants. Diagnostic assessments and best estimate diagnoses of the children were blind to the mothers' diagnostic status.

Results: The families were poor and predominantly Hispanic, more than half of them headed by single mothers. After adjusting for child age and gender, and for any possible sibling correlation, children of depressed mothers had significantly higher rates of lifetime depressive, separation anxiety, oppositional defiant, and any psychiatric disorders than children of control mothers, with a lifetime prevalence of any psychiatric disorder of 84.6 versus 50.0%, respectively. Children of depressed mothers also reported significantly lower psychosocial functioning and had higher rates of psychiatric treatment.

Conclusions: We conclude that the risk for psychiatric disorders may be particularly high in children of low-income depressed mothers. The primary-care setting offers a unique opportunity for early intervention with this underserved group.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acculturation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Black People / ethnology
  • Black People / psychology*
  • Black People / statistics & numerical data
  • Child
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Child of Impaired Parents / statistics & numerical data
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / ethnology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / psychology*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Hispanic or Latino / ethnology
  • Hispanic or Latino / psychology*
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / ethnology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Mothers / statistics & numerical data
  • New York City
  • Poverty / psychology*
  • Poverty / statistics & numerical data
  • Primary Health Care
  • Risk Factors
  • Single-Parent Family / ethnology
  • Single-Parent Family / psychology
  • Social Adjustment