The Relationship between Counseling, Social Support, and Depression in Mothers of Fragile Families

By Delaney, Megan E. | Journal of Mental Health Counseling, October 2017 | Go to article overview

The Relationship between Counseling, Social Support, and Depression in Mothers of Fragile Families


Delaney, Megan E., Journal of Mental Health Counseling


Little is known about the treatment of depression in the mothers of fragile families. Data from three waves of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study (N = 3,003) were used to examine the effect of counseling and social support on depression in mothers in fragile families. The results, analyzed using logistic regression, indicate that mothers who received counseling are 1.46 times more likely to be depressed (OR = 1.458; CI = 1.027-2.068; p = .035), yet those with social support are 0.66 times less likely to be depressed in future years (OR = 0.0660; CI = 0.522-0.834; p = .001). Conclusions, implications for practice, limitations, and future research are discussed.

A shifting demographic in American society is that of children being born to unmarried mothers. This trend has seen significant growth since the 1980s, when the birth rate of children to unmarried women was close to 18.4%; today the rate is close to 40.3% (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2015). Most births to unmarried couples occur within what researchers have termed fragile families (Reichman, Teitler, Garfinkel, & McLanahan, 2001). The word fragile is used to describe the higher probability that these families live in poverty, have physical and mental health issues, and are more likely to be poor (Broussard, Joseph, & Thompson, 2012). Mothers in fragile families are particularly vulnerable to issues pertaining to mental health, especially long-term depression, more than their married peers (McLanahan, Garfinkel, & Mincy, 2001).

The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing (FFCW) study is a longitudinal study that follows a birth cohort of 4,898 children (born between 1998 and 2000) and includes demographic, social-emotional, occupational, and employment data from married (n = 1,186) and unmarried (n = 3,712) parents. Access to this data set was granted from the principal investigators at Princeton University for this study. Five separate waves of FFCW data have been collected, including baseline (birth of child) and when the child was 1, 3, 5, and 9 years of age (delineated as Year 1, Year 3, and so forth). While research has been conducted on several factors pertaining to mothers of fragile families, including the influence of social support networks (Henly, Danziger, & Offer, 2005; Vogel, Wester, & Larson, 2007) and government policies (Greenberg & Robins, 2011), little research has been conducted on how mental health issues, specifically depression, are addressed and treated with this particular sub-sample of the population. Furthermore, there are no studies that address how counseling, in particular, influences rates of depression with fragile mothers. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between counseling and depression as well as the moderating factor of social support for mothers in fragile families. Findings from this study will contribute to the body of literature on mothers and depression.

The analytic sample includes mothers from two separate waves: Year 3 and Year 5. Year 3 was specifically chosen over the baseline year (birth of the child) and Year 1 to minimize the possibility of depression levels being influenced by postpartum effects. Furthermore, since the development of infants is critical in the first years of life (Ainsworth, 1991), and depression is known to influence an infant's developmental trajectory (O'Connor et al., 2011), Year 3 and Year 5 of the data were chosen specifically due to the representative age of the child.

Mothers from fragile families are unwed (in the traditional sense of heterosexual marriage) women with children who are likely to be in a romantic relationship with the biological father of their child. Of the unmarried women surveyed at baseline for the FFCW study, almost half expressed an expectation for a future marriage with the father, yet less than 10% married the father by the time their child was 5 years old (Reichman et al. …

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