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Depression in moms can impact their children’s cognitive growth

Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine are reporting that depression in mothers can have a negative effect on the cognitive development of their children up until the age of 16.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every ten women in the United States will experience depression at some point.

The current study was focused on approximately 900 healthy children and their mothers living in Santiago, Chile. The participants were surveyed every five years from the child’s infancy through age 16.

The research team investigated how affectionate and responsive mothers were to their children at each interval. They also noted whether age-appropriate learning materials were provided for the children by their mothers.

While the moms were tested for signs of depression during each follow-up survey, the children were evaluated on verbal cognitive abilities using standardized intelligence tests.

“We found that mothers who were highly depressed didn’t invest emotionally or in providing learning materials to support their child, such as toys and books, as much as mothers who were not depressed. This, in turn, impacted the child’s IQ at ages 1, 5, 10 and 16,” said study co-author Dr. Patricia East.

“The consistency and longevity of these results speak to the enduring effect that depression has on a mother’s parenting and her child’s development.”

At age five, the average cognitive test score for all of the children in the study was 7.64. The children of severely depressed mothers were found to have an average verbal IQ score of 7.30 compared to a score of 7.78 in children without depressed mothers.

“Although seemingly small, differences in IQ from 7.78 to 7.30 are highly meaningful in terms of children’s verbal skills and vocabulary,” said Dr. East. “Our study results show the long term consequences that a child can experience due to chronic maternal depression.”

The study results also indicated that 20 percent of mothers who are severely depressed when their child turns a year old will struggle with depression for a long time.

“For health care providers, the results show that early identification, intervention and treatment of maternal depression are key,” said Dr. East. “Providing resources to depressed moms will help them manage their symptoms in a productive way and ensure their children reach their full potential.”

The study is published in the journal Child Development.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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