Maternal Depression, Marital Discord, and Children's Behavior: A Developmental Perspective
Hyman Hops Linda Sherman Anthony Biglan Oregon Research Institute
There is no longer any doubt about the deleterious effects of maternal depression on children. What is now required is evidence of the mechanisms by which these effects are executed. This chapter develops several hypotheses about such mechanisms based on the integration of two parallel and somewhat overlapping literatures, clinical and developmental. Data from a study of the family interactions of depressed mothers and matched controls are presented to test these predictions.
Clinical studies increasingly show that the offspring of depressed mothers are at risk for a variety of problems, including depression. The combined clinical and developmental literatures suggest that older girls and younger boys may be most vulnerable and differentially affected. Depressive symptomatology is characterized primarily by feminine behaviors, with effects more evident around puberty. Thus, adolescent girls may be particularly at risk for the deleterious effects of depression in mothers. Among boys, conduct disorders account for the plurality of all psychiatric disorders ( Rutter, Tizard, Yule, Graham, & Whitmore , 1976), and boys emit higher rates of aggressive antisocial behavior than girls throughout childhood and adolescence ( Patterson, 1982; Wells & Forehand, 1985). However, antisocial behavior generally decreases with increasing age. Thus, we would expect younger boys in families with depressed mothers to be uniquely susceptible to such influences.
In a previous study ( Hops et al., 1987) we found that (a) compared to normal mothers, depressed mothers displayed higher rates of dysphoric affect and lower rates of happy affect, and (b) compared to children in normal families, those with