Mental health problems have long been considered to be at least partly inherited or genetic, especially when it comes to diagnoses like depression or anxiety. A new study shows that these illnesses in particular may in fact be learned behaviors, or symptomatic of a mother's mental health state in the child's early development. This is one more reason why those who experience depression after pregnancy should reach out for help.
New research published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics shows that a mom's anxiety and depression can increase the instances of emotional and behavioral problems in her children, and that this may be evidenced as early as 18 months. The risk remained active in children through adolescence, and resulted in a significantly increased instance of depressive symptoms as well. The findings were part of the TOPP study, "Tracking Opportunities and Problems in Childhood and Adolescence," conducted by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
Researchers found that there was a link between early disruptive behavior problems in children and emotional problems later in life, however, the reverse didn't seem to be true. Additionally, researchers from the study noted that, while both boys and girls were equally likely to be affected by these behavioral and emotional problems, instances of disruptive behavior in girls tended to signify greater risk for emotional problems later in adolescence.
"The findings emphasize the importance of health professionals spotting mental health problems in the mother and/or the child as early as possible, for example when the child attends their regular health check-ups at the health clinic in the early years," said Wendy Nilsen, head of the TOPP study and lead author of the study. Nilsen went on to say that these findings give health professionals as well as parents the opportunity to try early preventative measures against at-risk children developing these mental health issues.
Why seeking help is important
While these results are significant, the findings aren't set in stone. Researchers found that mothers who reported feelings of anxiety and depression after pregnancy and in the first two years of the child's life were more likely to notice behavioral and emotional problems surfacing in their children as well. Seeking the help of a therapist to deal with these feelings in a constructive manner can help prevent children from unchecked exposure to their mom's symptoms. In this way, mothers can get the help they need and stand a greater chance of ensuring the healthy mental development of their little ones.
In addition to mothers seeking help, it's also important for parents and physicians to keep an eye on the child's development so that any signs of trouble may be caught and corrected early on. As Nilsen noted, regular health examinations provide the perfect opportunity for all parties to come together on this issue.
Are you surprised to learn that depression after pregnancy may influence baby development? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.