Characteristics of mothers with depressive symptoms outside the postpartum period

David G. Rosenthal, Nicole Learned, Ying Hua Liu, Michael Weitzman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Numerous studies have investigated the deleterious effects of maternal depression on child outcomes. Knowledge of characteristics of these mothers is incomplete, as most studies utilize small samples or limit investigation to the postpartum period. Utilizing data from a nationally representative sample of 7,211 fathers and mothers living in households with children aged 5-17 years who participated in the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) 2004-2006, the Patient Health Questionnaire-2 (PHQ-2) was used to assess parental depressive symptoms, the Short Form-12 (SF-12) was used to examine paternal and maternal physical health, and the Columbia Impairment Scale was used to measure child behavioral or emotional problems. In multivariate analyses, maternal unemployment (AOR 1.76, 95 % CI 1.31-2.35); living with smokers (AOR 1.82, 95 % CI 1.12-2.94); poor maternal physical health (AOR 2.31; 95 % CI 1.81-2.94); living with children with behavioral or emotional problems (AOR 2.95, 95 % CI 2.30-3.96); and paternal depressive symptoms (AOR 5.11, 95 % CI 1.97-13.25) each were independently associated with increased rates of maternal depressive symptoms. This paper is the first we are aware of to use a nationally representative sample to investigate characteristics associated with maternal depressive symptoms and found that maternal unemployment, living with smokers, poor maternal physical health, having children with behavioral or emotional problems, and paternal depressive symptoms are each independently associated with maternal depressive symptoms. In these data, paternal depressive symptoms are associated with the greatest risk of mothers exhibiting depressive symptoms, a finding that we believe has never before been shown.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1030-1037
Number of pages8
JournalMaternal and Child Health Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • Child behavior
  • Child emotional problems
  • Maternal depressive symptoms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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