The influence of stress and social support on depressive symptoms in mothers with young children

Soc Sci Med. 2012 Dec;75(11):2013-20. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.07.034. Epub 2012 Aug 8.


Limited research has examined the associations of stress, social support, and depression among mothers with young children over time. Longitudinal studies are needed to identify risk and protective factors for maternal depression given that depression can be cyclical and may affect women through the early years of their children's development. This study examined the relationships among stress, social support, and depressive symptoms in a national sample of low-income urban American women with young children. A secondary data analysis of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a national longitudinal panel study of nearly 5000 births across 20 cities with populations of 200,000 or more in the United States, was conducted. The analytic sample included all mothers (N = 3675) who completed assessments at baseline through year 5 of the study between 1998 and 2005. Multivariate models using generalized estimating equations were used to estimate the probability of being depressed as a function of stress-related risk factors, social support factors, and sociodemographic variables. The rate of depression each year ranged from 15% to 21%. The results suggest that stress related to economic hardship, parenting, and poor physical health increases the risk of depression among low-income urban mothers with young children. Instrumental and partner support were found to be potential protective factors in reducing the negative effects of stress, but only to a certain degree. Future efforts are needed to strengthen social support and mitigate chronic stressors that contribute to mental health problems in low-income communities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Depression / etiology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Poverty*
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Support*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • United States
  • Urban Health*