Children whose mothers suffered depression during their pregnancy have a much greater risk of impaired cognitive development leading to psychological problems as they mature. Recently published research in Psychological Medicine shows that perinatal depression comes at a high cost to offspring, who are more likely to experience mental health problems and adverse job prospects in adulthood. In what is effectively the first study of its kind, and jointly researched with Derek King, Martin Knapp, Susan Pawlby, Dominic Plant and Carmine Pariante, Annette Bauer comments on the economic consequences of perinatal depression from a child’s perspective.
Perinatal depression affects 13 per cent of pregnant women in the general population and increases to more than 20 per cent in lower socio-economic groups. A number of studies have evidenced the negative impact of perinatal depression on children and their increased risk of developing emotional, behavioural and intellectual problems; others have found a substantial economic impact associated with mental health problems starting in childhood that reaches into adulthood, and possibly later life, with wide-ranging implications for society. Our research looked at some of the early adulthood economic consequences of adverse child development effects linked to maternal depression during pregnancy and after birth.
What we found
We looked at longitudinal data sourced from children of 252 women who attended two South London antenatal clinics in 1986. The data showed that:
- those exposed to perinatal depression were at higher risk of experiencing negative outcomes measured at 11 and 16 years
- almost a third of these women were diagnosed with depression during pregnancy and 22 per cent with post-natal depression
- between 5 to 21 per cent of children from the study group exposed to perinatal depression developed emotional, behavioural or cognitive problems into adulthood.
We found there was also a high risk of 24 per cent that children of these mothers diagnosed with depression had special educational needs by the time they started school; by adolescence, their behavioural problems were entrenched.
We also studied the effects of perinatal depression on children at 11 and 16 years of age and found a substantial economic impact associated with mental health problems starting in childhood with far-reaching implications for wider society. For each child exposed to perinatal depression, we estimated the costs to society at £8,000 per individual, including treatment costs (>£3,030), loss of earnings (£1,400) and reduced quality of life (£3,760).
These findings underline the importance of taking action to prevent or treat mothers’ depression during pregnancy and after birth. The key message from our research is that mothers need to be supported during pregnancy for health reasons and economic reasons.
Other risk factors, besides perinatal depression, also need to be considered in child development outcomes, such as the reported link between breastfeeding and cognitive development and the mother-infant relationship.
Bauer A, Pawlby S, Plant DT, King D, Pariante CM, Knapp M (2014) Perinatal depression and child development: exploring the economic consequences from a South London cohort, Psychological Medicine, Published online 23 June 2014.
About the authors:
Annette Bauer is Research Officer within the Personal Social Services Research Unit at the LSE.
Derek King is Research Fellow within the Personal Social Services Research Unit at the LSE
M. Knapp is Director of the Personal Social Services Research Unit; Director and Professor of Social Policy; Director, NIHR School for Social Care Research at the LSE.