Depression is one of the most prevalent mood disorders among mothers, with about one in five mothers experiencing clinical levels of depression in their lifetimes.1 Maternal depression is linked with a host of negative outcomes for children. As mothers’ depressive symptoms increase, the quality of parenting declines, and developmental delays and problems in children increase. Children of depressed mothers also are more likely to have insecure attachment with their mothers, experience high social withdrawal, have poor communication and language skills, perform poorly on cognitive tasks, and show more disruptive behaviors across developmental periods.2 Particularly among low-income families, financial difficulties and related resource scarcity increase the detrimental impacts of maternal depression on the children’s adjustment, the mother’s health status, and the family’s functioning as a whole.3
The federal government and the state of Texas are working to prevent and treat maternal depression, particularly for low-income mothers. As part of the Texas Home Visiting Program, which CFRP is evaluating, some home visiting programs across the state are working directly with mothers to determine whether a mother is depressed and to provide help for a mother who reports depression. In numerous studies, researchers have found that participation in home visiting programs is associated with improvements in mothers’ mental health; however, researchers are as of yet uncertain about what components of home visiting programs are having these impacts.
Theoretically, multiple components in home visiting programs – such as parenting skills training, group activities, father involvement, community services information, or mother/child health screenings – could potentially increase mothers’ parenting efficacy, self-sufficiency, and social support within the family and from the community. Any of these factors could, in turn, reduce their parenting stress. Those components might not only directly reduce mothers’ depressive symptoms in the short term but, more importantly, help mothers to adopt coping strategies that would prevent maternal depression from reoccurring after the mother’s complete the home visiting programs.
-Ni Yan, Graduate Research Assistant