Researchers revealed that mothers with depression were more likely to experience parental stress and less likely to think they were competent parents compared to women who were not depressed.
Dr Dow-Fleisner's findings, which were reported in the Journal of Family Issues, have important implications for the support that social workers, clinical professionals, families, and communities may be able to provide.
In contrast to the postpartum period, when mothers are most at risk for depression, Dr Dow-Fleisner wanted to focus on depression that strikes children later in life.
Her team used data from a significant longitudinal US study to compare the characteristics of depressed and non-depressed mothers of nine-year-old children.
They also acknowledged using more severe methods of punishment, such as denying the child of privileges or employing aggressive techniques like cursing or threatening them.
If they had a child, they were less likely to take part in school activities like going to open houses. However, they were equally likely to assist with household duties like homework.
“Being a mother with depression carries increased risks for a child’s physical and psychological health,” said Dr Sarah Dow-Fleisner, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work and Director of the Centre for the Study of Services to Children and Families at UBC Okanagan.
“But it’s not fated to be, especially if mothers have external supports.”
“Furthermore, mothers with depression reported fewer interpersonal supports and community resources than mothers without depression,” said Dr Dow-Fleisner.
“This is consistent with previous research.”
Interpersonal support referred to both emotional and material help from others, such as a relative providing advice or emergency childcare.
Community resources refer to safety and neighbourhood cohesion. Neighbourhood cohesion measures the willingness of neighbours to help and the shared values of the neighbourhood, among other social and trust factors.
“Notably, those mothers with depression who reported higher levels of support and cohesion felt less stressed and more competent in their parenting,” said Dr Dow-Fleisner.
“These positive perceptions translated to less psychological aggression-based discipline and more home and school involvement with their children.”
These findings fit with a resilience perspective, whereby mothers facing adversity like depression can still thrive as parents - especially when these protective factors are present.
“We want to help moms both address their depression and improve the child’s health and wellbeing - this is known as a two-generation approach,” said Dr Dow-Fleisner.
“As mothers may not seek out help for their depression alone, a child health check-up in a primary care setting is a good opportunity to screen for maternal depression and provide support in identifying interpersonal supports and community resources.”
Dr Dow-Fleisner added that capacity building should take precedence over just solving acute parenting issues in supporting programmes.
A community-based parenting support group, for instance, might assist a woman in creating a network of individuals who could offer financial and emotional assistance when necessary.