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Improving Early Childhood Development

Impact of Parental Depression


Dr. Mary Clare Lennon, Director of Social Science Research, National Center for Children in Poverty, New York, NY.

Ms. Ann Adalist-Estrin, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA.

Infants and toddlers of depressed parents are:

  • Less attentive, more fussy, and experience lower activity levels.
  • Six to eight times more likely to be diagnosed with a major depressive disorder.
  • Five times more likely to develop conduct disorders.

These conclusions were drawn by Dr. Lennon from her research. Dr. Lennon also found that depression is the most prevalent mental disorder nationally and is twice as high in low-income groups compared with others.

Parental depression can lead to:

  • Harsh or negative interactions with the child.
  • Lack of interest or follow-through on important prevention activities such as use of car seats and child-proofing.
  • Limited school readiness for children.

Pediatric providers have the opportunity to redefine child health to include the parent-child relationships and the impact of parental mental health.

According to Ann Adalist-Estrin, a Child and Family Therapist and Healthy Steps Trainer with Boston University School of Medicine, pediatric providers, when screening for risk factors, should:

  • Look at the child.
  • Listen to the parent.
  • Observe and listen for patterns of repeated incidents.
  • Assess environmental risks.
  • Identify protective factors.

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