Depressive symptoms in mothers of pre-school children—effects of deprivation, social support, stress and neighbourhood social capital

Caroline Mulvaney, Denise Kendrick
Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 2005, 40 (3): 202-8

BACKGROUND: Depressive symptoms in mothers of young children can have serious consequences for the health of the child. In particular, children whose mothers are experiencing depressive symptoms are at significantly greater risk of poisoning and accidental injury. A mother's risk of developing depressive symptoms has been shown to be related to socio-economic disadvantage, high levels of stress and a perceived lack of social support. Residents who perceive their neighbourhoods to be of low social capital are more likely to report poor mental health. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between maternal depressive symptoms, deprivation, social support, stress and neighbourhood social capital in a group of mothers living in deprived areas of Nottingham, United Kingdom (UK).

DESIGN AND SETTING: A postal questionnaire at entry to a randomised controlled trial (RCT) assessed socio-demographic characteristics and a second questionnaire, 21 months later, assessed depressive symptoms, perceived lack of social support, self-reported stress and individual-level assessment of neighbourhood social capital.

PARTICIPANTS: A total of 846 mothers of young children living in deprived areas in Nottingham, UK, enrolled in the control group of an RCT.

RESULTS: One-third of mothers reported high levels of depressive symptoms. Neighbourhood-level deprivation and receiving means-tested benefits were independently associated with maternal depressive symptoms. A lack of social support and high levels of self-reported stress were also strongly associated with depressive symptoms. Individual-level assessment of neighbourhood social capital was not associated with depressive symptoms amongst mothers after adjusting for self-reported stress.

CONCLUSIONS: Neighbourhood- and individual-level variables of deprivation and psychological distress are more important than mother's assessment of the social capital of the neighbourhood in which she lives in determining the risk of depressive symptoms. Interventions aimed at supporting mothers of young children may be more effective at reducing the risks of depressive symptoms and consequent risks to the child's health than interventions aimed at improving a neighbourhood's social capital.

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