Maternal depression and offspring health

Background

Depression is one of the most frequent mental diseases, and women have twice the risk of developing depression compared to men. Children of mentally ill parents have been shown to have a greater risk of developing mental illness, presumably due to both genetic and environmental conditions.

Our knowledge about the risk of somatic disease in children of mentally ill parents is, however, sparse. It has been shown that the vulnerability may start already in foetal life and that the first years of a child’s life is of great importance. Several studies have found that depression in a mother during the child’s first year of life or early childhood may result in lack of attachment between mother and child, which may affect the further development of the child.

During the childhood, several well-child visits are usually scheduled at the GP. These visits enable the GP to discover health problems or signs of welfare problems. As most diseases are diagnosed and treated in general practice, the utilisation of this service may serve as an important proxy for health. 

Objectives

In this PhD study, we aim:

  • To study the association between maternal depression and the children’s use of general practice (overall contact and specific activities that may serve as indicators of the physical well-being of the children)
  • To describe the attendance to prophylactic childcare programmes and vaccination programmes for children of mothers with and without depression
  • To investigate the association between maternal depression and the risk of accidents in childhood and
  • To study the association between maternal depression and self-assessed well-being and non-specific symptoms in the children

Perspectives

The GP has an important role because of the contact with the mother before, during and after the pregnancy. This provides the GP with an opportunity to identify vulnerable families.

Our current knowledge is sparse on the consequences for a child of a mother with mental illness. This study will give us very important insight into the consequences of growing up in a family with a depressed mother and whether timing of depression or chronicity may play a role.

The results may impact future prevention or treatment of mothers with depression and thereby increase the well-being for both child and mother.