Primary Sources: How Are Young People Affected by Their Mothers' Mental Health?

Photograph of a young woman and her mother.

The Role of Child Gender, Problem Behaviors, and the Family Environment on Maternal Depressive Symptoms: Findings From Mothers of Substance Abusing Runaway Adolescents” (abstract). Journal of Community Psychology Vol. 39, No. 7 (September 2011).

What it's about: The authors of this article wanted to know how a mother's (or other female caregiver's) depression influences her teen's behavior problems. The researchers measured symptoms of depression among the mothers or primary caregivers of 137 substance-abusing adolescents. At the same time, the researchers assessed caregivers’ perceptions of the family environment and the child's problem behavior.

Why read it: It goes without saying: Every young person is a product of his or her family. Youth and family service professionals may find that the results of this study confirm their own observations about the interplay between young people's behavior and conditions at home.

Biggest take away for family and youth workers: Ultimately, a more cohesive family environment meant caregivers were less likely to have symptoms of depression. Their children also had fewer behavior problems. Other observations from the study included the following:

  • Both boys and girls with highly depressed caregivers were more likely to act out than to withdraw.
  • Girls with depressed caregivers were more likely than boys to also experience depression. 
  • Boys were more likely to act out if their family environments were chaotic and less likely if their families were more cohesive.

Based on these results, programs that work with runaway and homeless youth should consider family cohesion, as well as conflict, when determining the best strategy for safely placing and treating youth.

Additional reference: Screening and assessment tools used by the researchers included Beck's Depression Inventory (PDF, 17KB), the Family Environment Scale, and the Child Behavior Checklist (PDF, 39KB).

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)

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