Depression in mothers is a well-known risk factor for childhood mental-health problems and research has suggested that children of depressed mothers are at 2-3 times the risk of both depression and anxiety and behaviour problems. Impairments in how mothers relate to their children play an important part in this increased risk but it is not really clear how this works. One theory is that mothers with depression are more sensitive to stress caused by other people (including their children) and that this makes them less able to deal with conflict with their children; something that could be particularly pronounced when the child itself has a mental-health problem. A study of 44 women by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh looked into the effectiveness of an adapted form of interpersonal psychotherapy. 22 women with depression, and with a child with mental-health problems were divided into two groups. One group received the interpersonal psychotherapy while the other group carried on receiving therapy as normal. 22 women without depression, and with children with no mental-health problems were included in the study for control purposes. The mothers were asked to give a speech about a recent situation with their child that made them feel angry or stressed and their mood, blood pressure and heart rate were assessed. Those women who had received treatment as usual showed the greatest increase in blood pressure, heart rate and depressed mood in response to the task while the non-depressed mothers of healthy children showed the least increases. Those women who had received the interpersonal therapy fell between the two groups suggesting that it had made some difference to their ability to handle stress. Dealing badly with stress was also associated with maternal mental-health problems, levels of parental stress over time and a maternal history of childhood emotional abuse.
Cyranowski, Jill M. ... [et al] - Emotional and cardiovascular reactivity to a child-focused interpersonal stressor among depressed mothers of psychiatrically ill children Depression and Anxiety, February 2009, 26(2), 110-116