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Exposure to maternal mental health problems predisposes children to injuries

05 Sep 2018

Children whose mothers have poor mental health are highly likely to sustain injuries in early to mid-childhood, a study suggests.

Researchers looked at 9,240 families from the UK Millennium Cohort study. They examined reports of unintentional injuries in children (none, 1 or 2+) recorded at three periods (3–5 years, 5–7 years and 7–11 years) in relation to maternal mental health status, including depression/anxiety and psychological distress.

Regression analysis revealed an association between exposure to maternal mental health problems and increased rates of subsequent childhood injuries. However, the strength of this association was attenuated following adjustments for sociodemographic circumstances.

Specifically, high maternal distress correlated with injuries at 3–5 years (1 injury: adjusted relative risk ratio [aRRR], 1.18; 95 percent CI, 0.86–1.61; 2+ injuries: aRRR, 2.22; 1.22–4.02), at 5–7 years (1 injury: aRRR, 1.31; 0.97–1.76; 2+ injuries: aRRR, 1.84; 1.09–3.09) and at 7–11 years (1 injury: aRRR, 1.03; 0.81–1.31; 2+ injuries: aRRR, 1.33; 0.97–1.81).

Researchers also noted elevated rates of injury in children whose mothers reported medium distress levels.

The strong and consistent association observed between maternal mental health problems and childhood injury highlights the importance of identification and treatment of such problems, researchers said. Moreover, the large attenuation of RRRs after controlling for sociodemographic variables indicates that providing support for vulnerable mothers may also help reduce rates of injury in their children.

Poor maternal mental health, rather than being a direct cause, potentially represents broader issues about the mother’s circumstances and capacities and the wider family and social environment, which could in turn predispose children to adopt risky behaviours, researchers explained.

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