The old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child,” gains profound importance against the backdrop of maternal depression. With the mounting evidence suggesting the repercussions of maternal mental health on a child’s overall well-being, a recent study has shone light on the significance of external support for mothers in distress. The findings were published in the Journal of Family Issues.
“Mothers grappling with depression face heightened risks to their child’s physical and psychological wellbeing,” noted Dr Sarah Dow-Fleisner, assistant professor at UBC Okanagan. “However, with adequate external supports, this isn’t a predetermined outcome.”
While many studies delve into postpartum depression, Dow-Fleisner’s team explored depression occurring later in childhood. Data from a vast longitudinal US study painted a stark comparison between depressed and non-depressed mothers of nine-year-olds.
Depressed mothers often experienced higher parenting stress and frequently employed both non-violent disciplinary tactics (like revoking privileges) and aggressive ones (like threatening the child). Interestingly, while their involvement at school events like open houses diminished, they remained equally committed to home activities, such as assisting with homework.
“Moreover, mothers facing depression reported fewer interpersonal supports and community resources compared to their non-depressed counterparts,” Dow-Fleisner pointed out, aligning with prior studies.
The silver lining? Mothers with depression who benefitted from robust support systems exhibited reduced stress, greater parental competence, and a significant decline in aggressive discipline. They also remained more involved in both home and school activities.
This ties back to the resilience perspective, which posits that despite adversities like depression, mothers can excel in parenting roles, especially when protected by strong support structures.
“Our goal is twofold: addressing maternal depression while enhancing child health and wellbeing. Known as a two-generation approach, it capitalises on child health check-ups in primary care as an avenue to screen and address maternal depression,” emphasised Dow-Fleisner.
Dow-Fleisner advocates for programs that move beyond mere problem-solving to empowering capacity-building. As an example, she mentions “Mamas for Mamas,” a community-driven group that fosters a sense of belonging while offering tangible support.
For a brighter future for both mothers and children, Dow-Fleisner concluded: “Investing in programmes that uplift mothers, especially those confronting mental health challenges, is paramount.”
If you or someone you know is struggling, consider seeking help from local helplines or support groups. Remember, there’s strength in reaching out.