Changes in depressive symptoms in first time mothers in home visitation

Child Abuse Negl. 2009 Mar;33(3):127-38. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2008.09.005. Epub 2009 Mar 27.


Objective: The expansion of Home Visitation Programs for at-risk, first-time mothers and their young children has drawn attention to the potential impact of depression on program outcomes, yet little research has examined depression in the context of home visitation. The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence of and changes in depressive symptoms in mothers enrolled in home visitation and identify predictors of change in symptoms over the first 9 months of service.

Methods: Subjects consisted of 806 at-risk, first-time mothers enrolled in a Home Visitation Program. Self-reported depression was measured at enrollment and again 9 months later. Established clinical cutoffs were used to identify clinically elevated levels of depression. Additional measures were taken of interpersonal trauma history, concurrent intimate partner violence, and social support.

Results: Results indicated that: (1) 45.3% of mothers had clinically elevated symptoms of depression at some point during the first 9 months of service, (2) 25.9% of mothers had elevated symptoms at both time points or at the 9-month assessment, and (3) 74.1% experienced an interpersonal trauma prior to enrollment. Lack of improvement or worsening of depressive symptoms from enrollment to 9 months was best predicted by pre-enrollment interpersonal trauma history, young maternal age, being African American, and symptoms severe enough to have led to mental health treatment.

Conclusions: Findings suggest that maternal depressive symptoms are a significant problem in home visitation. The role of interpersonal trauma in depressive symptoms, and how to best address these clinical issues in home visitation, warrants further examination.

Practice implications: Maternal depression is prevalent in Home Visitation Programs, and many mothers exhibit elevated symptoms at multiple time points over the first year of service. Interpersonal trauma history is also prevalent, and is predictive of increased depressive symptoms over time. Home Visitation Programs should note that mothers with interpersonal trauma history, young maternal age, and being African American have an increased likelihood of persistent depressive symptoms, which may in turn pose significant challenges to providing services.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child Abuse / prevention & control
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Domestic Violence / psychology
  • Female
  • House Calls*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Prevalence
  • Social Support
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / psychology
  • Young Adult