The risk of substance use and delinquent behavior is higher in teens whose mothers were depressed when their children were aged 6-10 years, a study showed.
“Engagement in risky behaviors, which are increasingly prevalent during the adolescent years, may be associated with severe immediate and future morbidity and mortality risks,” Maeve E. Wickham of the University of Alberta, Edmonton, and her associates wrote. “Consequently, identification and treatment of depressed mothers during midchildhood years may have an impact in reducing the engagement in health risk behaviors in adolescence and associated long-term sequelae,” the investigators wrote (Pediatrics 2014 Dec. 22 [doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-0628]).
Ms. Wickham’s team gave questionnaires every 2 years to 2,910 pairs of mothers and their children in a nationally representative Canadian cohort, from 1994-1995 through 2008-2009. The children were aged 2-5 years at the start of the study and 16-17 years at the conclusion; they filled out their own questionnaires starting at ages 10-11 years.
After accounting for family socioeconomic status and the child’s sex, the researchers identified several trends among the children of mothers who experienced depressive symptoms when the children were aged 6-10.
Compared with children whose mothers had few depressive symptoms, the teens with depressed mothers in the teens’ middle childhood years were twice as likely to start smoking (hazard ratio, 2.15) or use marijuana (HR, 1.91); 1.4 times more likely to use alcohol (HR, 1.43); and over three times more likely to use hallucinogens (HR, 3.51).
The adolescents whose mothers experienced depression in middle childhood also were more likely to engage in violent and nonviolent delinquent behaviors, such as stealing, fighting, carrying a weapon, attacking someone, driving or riding with someone under the influence, selling drugs, or intentionally causing damage.
“The results of this study suggest that exposure to maternal depressive symptoms in childhood is associated with greater, earlier engagement in health risk behaviors, and they suggest a sensitive period in midchildhood during which exposure to maternal depressive symptoms appears to have the strongest effects on adolescent engagement in delinquent and substance use behaviors,” the researchers wrote.
The study was funded by the SickKids Foundation, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Canada Research Chairs program. The authors reported no financial disclosures.