Purpose: We address the significant gaps in knowledge of prevalence and correlates of child mental health (CMH) problems outside of high income countries. We describe the prevalence of CMH problems and their correlates with a focus on the association with maternal depression in a sample of seven-year-old children in rural Pakistan.
Methods: This study was nested in a long-term follow-up of a perinatal depression intervention together with a reference group of non-depressed women, yielding a population representative sample. The Total Difficulties (TD) and component scores of the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) were used to measure emotional and behavioral difficulties.
Results: The mean SDQ TD score was 10.6 (standard deviation = 8.3), with 12.5 % of children categorized as "abnormal" using standard cutoffs. Boys had a roughly 1 point higher (worse) SDQ TD score than girls (p value = 0.04). Children of mothers who were depressed prenatally as well as currently had SDQ TD scores 2.87 points higher than children whose mothers were not depressed at either time point (p value < 0.01). This association was stronger for boys. There was no evidence of elevated SDQ TD score among children whose mothers were depressed only prenatally or only currently. Some deviations from this pattern were observed with specific components of the SDQ.
Conclusions: In this low resource, South Asian setting, we found evidence of elevated levels of emotional and behavioral problems, highlighting the need for effective interventions. Given the strong association of CMH with maternal depression, any intervention efforts should give strong consideration to maternal mental health.
Keywords: Child mental health; Gender differences; Maternal depression; Socio-emotional development; Strengths and difficulties questionnaire.