Maternal and Child Health Journal

, Volume 17, Issue 6, pp 1030–1037

Characteristics of Mothers with Depressive Symptoms Outside the Postpartum Period

  • David G. Rosenthal
  • Nicole Learned
  • Ying-Hua Liu
  • Michael Weitzman

DOI: 10.1007/s10995-012-1084-x

Cite this article as:
Rosenthal, D.G., Learned, N., Liu, YH. et al. Matern Child Health J (2013) 17: 1030. doi:10.1007/s10995-012-1084-x


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.


Maternal depressive symptomsChild behaviorChild emotional problems



Adjusted odds ratio


Medical expenditure panel survey


Confidence interval


Composite international diagnostic interview


Columbia impairment scale


Children with special health care needs


Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders IV


Hypothalamic pituitary adrenal


Mental component score


National Institute of Child Health and Human Development


National health interview survey


Physical component scale


Patient health questionnaire-2


Short-form 12


Secondhand smoke

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • David G. Rosenthal
    • 3
  • Nicole Learned
    • 3
  • Ying-Hua Liu
    • 1
  • Michael Weitzman
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PediatricsNew York University School of MedicineNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental MedicineNew York University School of MedicineNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.New York University School of MedicineNew YorkUSA