Mediators and moderators of the relationship between maternal depression and negative child outcomes
Research has shown that children of depressed mothers have more negative outcomes than children of nondepressed mothers, including increased behavior problems and psychopathology. The purpose of the current study was to explore this association by examining possible mediating and moderating variables in the relationship between maternal depression and negative child outcomes in a low-income ethnic minority population of ninety-one children ages four to seven. As impaired parenting skills of depressed mothers have been suggested as a mechanism through which children are negatively impacted, parenting behaviors were studied as potential mediating variables, using both observational and self-report measures. Outcome measures in this study were mother, father figure, and teacher reports of child externalizing and internalizing behavior problems and adaptive skills. Consistent with previous research, maternal depression in this sample was associated with increased child externalizing and internalizing behavior problems, and fewer adaptive skills. However, this difference was found only for mothers' reports, and not for teacher or father figure reports. In studying possible mediators, there were no differences in observational ratings of parenting between depressed and nondepressed mothers, and only maternal self-report of rejection was found to partially mediate the relationship between maternal depression and mothers' ratings of their children's externalizing and internalizing behaviors. Moderating variables were also studied, which found a significant effect for child gender on the relationship between maternal depression and child outcomes. Depressed mothers were found to rate their daughters as having significantly more internalizing behavior problems than did nondepressed mothers, whereas the difference for boys was not significant. Ethnicity and child age were not found to be moderating variables in this sample. Characteristics of mothers' depression, severity and recurrence, were also studied to examine their impact on child outcomes within the depressed sample. Recurrence of maternal depressive episodes was found to impact child outcomes, with the children of women with recurrent depression (defined as three or more episodes) rated by father figures as having more externalizing and internalizing behavior problems, and by teachers as having fewer adaptive skills. Severity of maternal depression was not found to impact child outcomes.