DataBank Indicator

Parental Depression

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According to the National Academy of Sciences, at least 15 million children (about one in five) in the U.S. live in households with parents who have major or severe depression.

Importance

Parental depression negatively affects fathers’ and mothers’ caregiving, material support, and nurturance, and is associated with poor health and developmental outcomes for children of all ages, including prenatally.[1],[2] Depressed mothers are more likely than non-depressed mothers to have poor parenting skills and to have negative interactions with their children.[3] Mothers who are depressed are less likely to use appropriate practices (such as using car seats, smoke alarms and covering electrical outlets) to prevent injury and harm among their children, and more likely to use corporal punishment.[4],[5] Maternal depression is a significant risk factor for child abuse and neglect.[6] Low-income depressed mothers may also be less likely than their non-depressed peers to access public assistance.[7] The two factors most strongly associated with maternal depression, in turn, are intimate-partner violence, and mothers’ health.[8]

Children of depressed mothers are more likely than other children to have behavior problems, academic difficulties, and health problems (including psychiatric illness).[9],[10],[11] Maternal depression has also been linked to delays in cognitive and motor development among children 28 to 50 months old.[12] Long-term, severe maternal depression has been found to have especially adverse consequences for child development and behavior.[13],[14] Five-year-old children whose mothers experienced frequent and/or severe depression were more likely to have behavioral problems and lower vocabulary scores than those whose mothers had less chronic and/or severe depression.[15] Among families receiving welfare, children of depressed mothers have lower average scores on math achievement tests than do other children.[16]

One study found that when mothers are successfully treated for depression, their children also are less likely to be diagnosed with or show symptoms of depression.[17] The effects of maternal depression on child outcomes may also be moderated by higher levels of maternal sensitivity,[18] suggesting that policies aimed at increasing parental sensitivity, in addition to those reducing parental depression, may be effective in improving child outcomes. Another factor moderating the negative effects of maternal depression on child behavior may be enrollment in formal child care. A recent study found that as little as a half-day per week in formal child care at age two buffered the effects of recurrent maternal depression on children’s behavior problems at age five.[19]

Depression among fathers has been less well-researched, but one study found that depressed fathers were more likely than non-depressed fathers to report spanking their one-year-old children, and less likely to report reading to them.[20]

According to another study, depressed fathers were less likely to engage their child in activities, and more likely to exhibit stress/aggravation in parenting.[21] Research on the children of depressed mothers indicates that having a father who is also depressed is associated with worse outcomes for children and adolescents than those accompanying maternal depression alone.[22] On the other hand, a non-depressed father who is positively involved in parenting may compensate for a depressed mother’s functioning, moderating the risk of the child’s developing problem behaviors.[23]

Trends

54_fig1According to a report from the National Academy of Sciences, at least 15 million children (about one in five) in the U.S. live in households with parents who have major or severe depression.[24] In a study of a large sample of parents in the United Kingdom, by the time children reach age 12, 39 percent of mothers, and 21 percent of fathers had experienced depression as parents.[25]

Analyses of the National Health Interview Survey find that, in 2013, five percent of all U.S. parents living in two-parent families with their children, and eleven percent of single parents, reported two or more symptoms related to depression. While there has been no significant change in this proportion for parents living in two-parent families, among single parents, the rate of depressive symptoms fell between 2004 and 2007 (from 10 to seven percent), then rose between 2007 and 2009 (to 10 percent), before decreasing to six percent in 2012. The position of the questions within the survey was changed in 2013, making comparisons between 2013 and earlier years problematic. Additionally, due to the sampling procedure used in this survey, data on the overall population of parents are not available. (Figure 1)

Differences by Family Type

Single parents are twice as likely to be depressed as parents living in two-parent families. In 2013, eleven percent of single parents reported two or more symptoms related to depression, compared with five percent of parents living in two-parent households. (Figure 1) When looking at females alone, the difference remains, with 12 percent of single mothers reporting symptoms of depression, compared with five percent of mothers in two-parent families. There was no similar difference among fathers. (Appendix 1)

Differences by Gender

Among single parents in 2013, mothers were more likely than fathers to report two or more symptoms related to depression (12 and five percent, respectively). There was no detectable difference by gender among parents in two-parent households. (Appendix 1)

Differences by Educational Attainment

54_fig2Parents with at least a bachelor’s degree are less likely than others to show two or more symptoms of depression. In 2013, six percent of single parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher reported such symptoms, compared with 10 percent or more of single parents without a bachelor’s degree. Among parents living in two-parent households, two percent with at least a bachelor’s degree reported symptoms, compared with five percent or more among those without a bachelor’s degree.(Figure 2)

Differences by Poverty and Receipt of Public Assistance

54_fig3Parents living in households that are poor or receiving public assistance are more likely than others to report symptoms of depression. Among single parents in 2013, 15 percent living in households with incomes below the federal poverty line reported symptoms of depression, compared with eight percent of single parents at or above the poverty line. In the same year, 15 percent of single parents who had at least one family member eligible to receive SNAP benefits (food stamps) reported symptoms of depression, compared with six percent of other single parents. (Figure 3) A similar pattern is found among parents living in two-parent families. (Appendix 1)

State and Local Estimates

2011/12 data on parents’ current mental and emotional health (reported by one parent), by state, is available from the Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health.

International Estimates

None available.

National Goals

Through its Healthy People 2020 initiative, the federal government has outlined a goal to decrease the percentage of adults who experience a major depressive episode, from 6.8 percent in 2008 to 6.1 percent in 2020. Additionally, there are goals to increase the percentage of adults with depression who receive treatment, from 68.3 percent in 2008 to 75.1 percent in 2020, and to increase depression screening by primary care providers.

More information is available here.

What Works to Make Progress on This Indicator

See Child Trends’ LINKS database (“Lifecourse Interventions to Nurture Kids Successfully”), for reviews of many rigorously
evaluated programs, including the following which have been shown to be effective at reducing the risks to children from parental depression:

Related Indicators

Definition

Parents are considered to exhibit symptoms of depression if they responded “all of the time” or “most of the time” to at least two of the following questions:

During the past 30 DAYS, how often did you feel…

  1. So sad that nothing could cheer you up;
  2. Nervous;
  3. Restless or fidgety;
  4. Hopeless;
  5. That everything was an effort;
  6. Worthless

In 2013, this question was moved from the section of the survey that dealt with medical diagnoses, to a section containing miscellaneous questions, including such things as neighborhood characteristics. Because of this change, data from 2013 is not comparable to previous years, although the question itself remained the same.

Note: The National Center for Health Statistics, in partnership with Harvard Medical School, conducted a validity
study to determine appropriate cut-points for these measures. The results from this study are available here.

Note that this is not a definition of clinical depression, and these self-report data should not be taken to indicate
levels of clinical depression in the population. Nevertheless, the relative incidence across subgroups is consistent with the research cited above.

Data Sources

Data for 1998-2013: Original analyses by Child Trends of the National Health Interview Survey.

Raw Data Source

National Health Interview Survey

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis.htm

Appendix 1 – Of Resident Parents,1 Percentage Who Reported Two or More Depressive Symptoms2 During the Past 30 Days, by Family Type3 and Selected Characteristics, 1998-2013*

1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012  l 2013*
Single Parents 9.4 7.8 7.9 10.0 7.9 9.4 9.9 9.4 8.1 6.9 7.9 9.8 8.1 8.2 5.9  l 10.6
Gender  l
Male 4.5 3.5 5.6 4.9 4.8 2.3 7.3 5.8 7.8 8.6 4.2 6.6  l 4.7
Female 10.2 5.1 8.2 10.9 8.5 10.7 10.3 10.3 8.2 7.5 8.6 10.0 8.8 8.5 6.3  l 11.5
Age group  l
18-24 9.8 7.4 9.7 8.0 10.9 10.1 9.0 15.1 3.7 3.9 12.6 7.2 6.5 7.4 6.8  l 7.7
25-34 10.6 9.2 7.6 13.2 6.6 10.0 9.9 9.8 9.8 7.8 8.3 10.2 9.5 9.9 6.0  l 11.3
35-44 9.4 6.9 7.8 8.9 7.1 9.2 10.8 9.6 8.2 7.5 7.7 10.0 8.4 7.8 6.4  l 10.5
45+ 6.3 6.8 6.7 8.5 10.1 8.3 8.8 6.1 8.3 6.2 4.5 10.4 6.5 6.3 4.5  l 11.3
Race/Hispanic origin  l
Non-Hispanic white 10.2 7.8 8.9 9.5 7.8 10.3 9.9 11.2 9.0 8.5 7.2 10.5 7.3 9.1 6.5  l 12.5
Non-Hispanic black 8.3 8.2 6.2 8.5 7.8 7.7 9.9 7.1 8.6 4.5 8.2 9.1 9.9 7.7 5.2  l 6.8
Hispanic4 9.1 7.2 8.5 11.3 9.0 10.2 10.6 10.0 6.2 7.8 10.0 7.9 8.5 6.6 5.5  l 11.2
Poverty status  l
At or above poverty level 6.5 6.1 5.8 7.8 5.2 6.7 7.2 6.2 6.2 4.5 5.4 7.2 4.6 5.3 3.6  l 7.8
Below poverty level 14.5 13.7 14.3 17.3 13.5 15.1 15.3 16.1 11.3 12.3 14.8 16.1 14.9 13.2 9.7  l 15.0
1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012  l 2013*
Education  l
Some high school or less 13.9 10.8 10.3 15.1 12.6 14.7 12.5 12.6 12.2 10.1 14.3 13.1 11.1 11.0 9.3  l 13.8
High school diploma/ GED or equivalent 9.5 8.8 8.8 8.7 7.8 9.7 12.3 11.9 10.2 7.0 7.6 9.4 9.9 9.9 5.7  l 10.2
Some college, no degree/AA degree 8.3 6.3 7.4 10.4 6.9 8.0 8.2 8.3 6.5 7.2 7.1 10.5 7.5 8.4 5.6  l 11.4
BA or higher 3.8 3.5 2.3 3.0 3.9 5.0 3.6 3.3 5.0 3.3 2.3  l 6.1
Welfare/TANF Receipt5  l
Received income from welfare/TANF 15.9 14.5 15.9 18.6 18.1 19.9 18.9 23.4 17.9 14.0 21.5 19.2 16.2 17.5 10.8  l 13.5
Did not receive income from welfare/TANF 7.8 6.3 6.7 8.8 6.6 8.2 8.8 8.2 7.1 6.1 6.5 8.7 7.1 7.2 5.4  l 10.2
Food Stamps/SNAP Receipt5  l
Authorized to receive food stamps/SNAP 15.6 13.7 13.4 17.7 14.1 15.7 16.7 17.8 13.8 11.5 14.6 15.1 12.7 12.9 8.8  l 15.4
Not authorized to receive food stamps/SNAP 6.9 5.6 6.1 7.5 5.8 7.3 7.3 6.5 5.5 5.0 4.7 6.9 4.9 4.6 3.6  l 6.4
Region  l
Northeast 12.4 6.4 7.4 10.8 6.7 9.3 6.7 12.7 9.9 6.5 6.5 8.6 7.8 6.7 7.4  l 9.3
Midwest 9.3 7.2 8.9 8.0 9.4 8.9 9.7 8.3 9.0 6.7 6.2 12.2 6.4 8.4 6.3  l 12.1
South 8.2 8.8 8.2 10.3 7.3 10.4 11.5 9.5 8.1 6.6 9.0 8.0 9.2 9.4 5.7  l 10.6
West 9.0 7.8 6.4 11.0 8.7 8.1 9.1 8.7 5.6 8.3 9.3 11.1 8.2 7.4 4.9  l 9.4
1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012  l 2013*
Parents in two-parent households 3.7 3.0 3.3 3.4 3.2 3.5 3.5 3.1 3.2 3.2 3.3 3.6 3.4 3.6 2.9  l 4.8
Gender  l
Male 3.3 2.2 3.0 2.7 2.8 3.0 2.9 2.8 2.9 3.0 2.8 3.7 3.4 3.4 2.3  l 4.6
Female 4.0 3.8 3.6 4.0 3.6 4.0 4.1 3.4 3.5 3.5 3.7 3.4 3.5 3.9 3.6  l 5.1
Age group  l
18-24 6.3 3.2 6.5 6.1 4.6 3.5 5.9 5.9 5.1 5.4 9.1 6.0  l 7.5
25-34 3.9 2.9 3.1 3.6 2.6 4.3 3.5 3.5 3.3 3.8 3.6 4.1 3.9 4.0 3.6  l 5.3
35-44 3.1 2.9 2.5 2.9 3.2 2.7 3.3 2.7 2.6 2.9 3.3 3.6 2.5 3.4 2.2  l 4.3
45+ 3.9 3.2 4.5 3.3 3.6 3.7 3.3 2.7 3.8 2.7 3.0 3.2 3.3 3.1 3.1  l 4.6
Race/Hispanic origin  l
Non-Hispanic white 3.2 2.8 3.5 3.3 3.1 3.4 3.5 2.9 3.3 3.3 3.3 3.5 3.4 3.8 2.9  l 5.3
Non-Hispanic black 5.5 4.6 2.5 3.4 4.1 3.6 4.2 4.6 3.3 2.8 3.5 4.5 3.8 4.1 3.6  l 5.5
Hispanic4 5.1 3.8 3.0 4.3 3.3 4.0 3.8 3.7 2.9 3.3 3.5 3.5 4.1 3.5 2.9  l 4.2
Poverty status  l
At or above poverty level 3.3 2.8 3.1 3.1 2.9 3.1 2.9 2.7 2.7 2.5 2.6 3.0 2.8 2.8 2.3  l 4.1
Below poverty level 11.5 5.8 9.4 8.3 6.5 9.4 8.2 10.1 10.7 11.5 10.0 7.9 8.1 8.9 7.5  l 12.6
Education  l
Some high school or less 8.5 5.6 7.4 7.5 5.9 6.2 7.3 6.3 5.6 6.5 5.6 6.7 5.9 5.0 5.9  l 7.2
High school diploma/ GED or equivalent 3.7 4.1 3.4 3.9 4.7 4.6 4.2 4.3 3.5 4.8 5.6 5.3 5.0 5.5 3.2  l 8.2
Some college, no degree/AA degree 3.6 2.5 3.2 3.2 2.7 3.3 3.5 2.7 3.5 2.5 3.1 3.3 4.0 4.6 3.1  l 4.8
BA or higher 1.5 1.2 1.5 1.2 1.1 1.1 1.2 1.1 1.4 1.1 0.9 1.3 1.0 1.1 1.3  l 2.1
1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012  l 2013*
Welfare/TANF Receipt5  l
Received income from welfare/TANF 10.6 7.7 11.2 11.5 9.4 15.7 20.5 11.7 13.5 14.3 13.4 8.3 11.2 13.4  l
Did not receive income from welfare/TANF 3.5 2.9 3.2 3.2 3.1 3.3 3.3 3.0 3.0 3.0 3.0 3.5 3.3 3.4 2.7  l 4.7
Food Stamps/SNAP Receipt5  l
Authorized to receive food stamps/SNAP 12.6 9.0 12.5 12.0 8.3 11.6 12.7 11.1 11.3 12.4 10.2 7.2 8.4 9.6 8.0  l 12.7
Not authorized to receive food stamps/SNAP 3.2 2.7 2.9 3.0 2.9 3.0 2.9 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.6 3.2 2.8 2.5 2.0  l 3.7
Region  l
Northeast 2.9 2.5 2.1 2.9 3.0 3.6 2.3 2.8 3.2 3.2 2.4 3.3 3.0 2.7 1.9  l 5.0
Midwest 3.3 2.5 3.5 2.9 3.0 3.6 6.5 2.5 3.6 3.0 2.6 3.3 3.3 3.1 3.2  l 5.5
South 4.4 3.5 3.6 3.9 3.8 3.2 3.8 4.5 3.0 3.8 3.2 4.2 3.8 4.3 3.2  l 4.9
West 3.7 3.3 3.8 3.5 2.6 3.5 4.0 2.0 3.2 2.7 4.5 3.1 3.4 3.9 3.0  l 4.7
* In 2013 the questions that this measure is derived from were moved to a different location within the survey, and estimates may not be comparable to earlier years.1Parents are defined as parents of children under age 18, residing with one or more of their children.2Depressive symptoms include the following: felt sad, hopeless, worthless, restless, or that everything was an effort all of the time or most of the time during the past 30 days.3 Because depressive symptom data were obtained from a randomly chosen adult within a household, data for single parents and parents in two-parent households cannot be combined.

4 Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.

5 At least one family member receives benefit.

Source: Original analysis by Child Trends of National Health Interview Survey data 1998-2013.


Endnotes


[1]National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. (2009). Depression in parents, parenting, and children: Opportunities to improve identification, treatment, and prevention. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

[2]Oberlander, T. F., Papsdorf, M., Brain, U. M., Misri, S., Ross, C., and Grunau, R. E. (2010). Prenatal effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors antidepressents, serotonin transporter promoter genotype (SLC6A4), and maternal mood on child behavior at 3 years of age. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 164(5), 444-451.

[3]Hops, H. (1995). Age- and gender-specific effects of parental depression: A commentary. Developmental Psychology,31(3),428-431.

[4]McLennan, J.D. and Kotelchuck, M. (2000). Parental prevention practices for young children in the context of maternal depression. Pediatrics. 105(5), 1090-1095.

[5]Chung, E. K., McCollum, K. F., and Elo, I. T., et al. (2004). Maternal depressive symptoms and infant health practices among low-income women. Electronic Article. Pediatrics, 113, e523-e529.

[6] Administration for Children and Families. (2007). Depression among caregivers of young children reported for child maltreatment. National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being: Research Brief No. 13. Available at: www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/abuse_neglect/nscaw/reports/depression_caregivers/depression_caregivers.pdf

[7]Casey, P., Goolsby, S, and Berkowitz, C., et al. (2004). Maternal depression, changing public assistance, food security, and
child status. Pediatrics, 113, 298-304.

[8]Administration for Children and Families. (2007). Op. cit.

[9]Dawson, G., Ashman, S. B., Panagiotides, et al. (2003). Preschool outcomes of children of depressed mothers: Role of maternal behavior, contextual risk, and children’s brain activity. Child Development, 74(4),1158-1175. Abstract available at: http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-8624.00599.

[10]Moore, K.A., Hair, E.C., Vandivere, S.M., Cameron, B., Thomson, L., & McNamara, M. (2006). Depression among moms: Prevalence, predictors, and outcomes for children. Research Brief, Publication #2006-1. Washington, DC: Child Trends. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Child_Trends-2006_03_31_RB_MomDepression.pdf

[11]Ahluwalia, S.K., McGroder, S.M., Zaslow, M., & Hair, E.C. (2001). Symptoms of depression among welfare recipients: A concern for two generations. Child Trends Research Brief, December 2001.Child Trends: Washington, D.C. Available online at: https://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Welfare-Depression.pdf

[12]Petterson, S.M. & Albers, A.B. (2001). Effects of poverty and maternal depression on early child development. Child
Development
, 72(6), 1794-1813.

[13]Ibid.

[14] Brennan, P.A., Andersen, M.J. Najman. J.M., Williams, G.M., Hammen, C., and Bor, W. (2000). Chronicity, severity, and timing of maternal depressive symptoms: relationships with child outcomes at age 5. Developmental Psychology, 36(6), 759-766.

[15]Ibid.

[16]Hair, E.C., McGroder, S.M., Zaslow, M., Ahluwalia, Surjeet, & Moore, K.A. (2002) How do maternal risk factors affect children in low-income families? Further evidence of two-generational implications. Co-published simultaneously in Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community, 23(12), 65-94.

[17]Weissman, M.A., Pilowsky, D.J., Wickramaratne, P.J., Talati, A., Wisniewski, S.R., Fava, M. et al. (2006). Remissions in
maternal depression and child psychopathology: A STAR*D-child report.Journal of American Medical Association,295(12), 1389-1398.

[18]NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, (1999). Chronicity of maternal depressive symptoms, maternal sensitivity, and child functioning at 36 months. Developmental Psychology,35(5), 1297-1310.

[19]Giles, L. C., Davies, M. J., Whitrow, M. J., Warin, M. J., and Moore, V. (2011). Maternal depressive symptoms and child care during toddlerhood related to child behavior at age 5 years. Pediatrics. Published online, June 13, 2011.

[20]Davis, R. N., Davis, M. M., Freed, G. L., and Clark, S. J. (2011). Fathers’ depression related to positive and negative parenting behaviors with 1-year-old children. Pediatrics, Published online March 14, 2011.

[21]Bronte-Tinkew, J., Moore, K.A., Matthews, G., & Carrano, J. (2005). Major depression in a sample of fathers:
Socio-demographic correlates and links to fathers’ involvement in families
. Child Trends: Washington, DC, Unpublished paper.

[22]Goodman, S.H. & Gotlib, I. (1999). Risk for psychopathology in the children of depressed mothers: A developmental model for understanding mechanisms of transmission. Psychological Review, 106(3), 458-490.

[23]Chang, J. J., Halpern, C. T., & Kaufman, J. S. (2007). Maternal depressive symptoms, father’s involvement, and the
trajectories of child problem behavior in a US national sample. Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, 161(7), 697-703.

[24]National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. (2009). Depression in parents, parenting, and children: Opportunities to improve identification, treatment, and prevention. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

[25]Davé, S., Petersen, I., Sherr, L., and Nazareh, I. (2010). Incidence of maternal and paternal depression in primary care.
Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.  Published online, September 6, 2010.

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2014). Parental depression. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=parental-depression

Last updated: August 2014

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