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You are here : 3-RX.com > Home > Psychiatry / Psychology -

Mom’s troubles up child’s risk of behavior problems

Psychiatry / PsychologyMay 02, 06

When a mother suffers from mental health problems and other difficulties during her child’s first year of life, the child is more likely to have behavior problems later on, new research shows. And the more problems a mother faces, the greater the risk.

“The child’s brain is really shaped by the early environment, and mom is a big part of that, especially in the first year of life,” Dr. Robert C. Whitaker of Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., in Princeton, New Jersey the study’s lead author, told Reuters Health.

This study provides “evidence of how early in life there’s a transfer of difficulty from one generation to the next,” Whitaker said, adding: “Early in a child’s life is an opportune time to break that cycle.”

While there have been many studies of maternal problems and child behavior, Whitaker and his team note in the Archives of General Psychiatry, most have looked at these problems in isolation; for example, depression only, or drug use only. But such problems frequently appear together, they add.

Whitaker’s team studied the prevalence and effects of a constellation of maternal difficulties (mental health, substance use, and domestic violence) in 2,756 mothers from 18 large US cities. The mothers were evaluated one year after delivery and three years later.

The investigators found that half of the women reported problems in at least one of the three areas, and nearly one-third of these women had problems in at least one other area.

The more problems a mother reported in the initial survey, the more likely her child was to have behavior problems at age three, the researchers found. For example, 9 percent of children whose mothers reported no problems had symptoms of anxiety or depression. If a mother had a problem in one area, a child’s risk of anxiety or depression was 14 percent; 16 percent with problems in two areas; and 27 percent with problems in all three areas. The pattern was similar for aggression and inattention.

The findings show that a child’s first year of life represents a valuable opportunity to intervene to prevent future problems, but also underscore the importance of treating the family as a whole, Whitaker said.

“To meet children’s mental health needs and their social and emotional needs, we really need to meet the mental health needs of their parents, and we need to look at the child’s whole family,” he explained.

If a parent is having problems, Whitaker added, it’s important to get help. “If they feel like they’re suffering from difficulties in any of these areas-substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health—as much as possible they should feel comfortable asking for help, even if it’s from their child’s health care provider, because addressing those problems as they have them is one of the most important things they can do for their children.”

SOURCE: Archives of General Psychiatry, May 2006.

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