According to a new study by researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the children of mothers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are at high risk of being traumatized themselves. The findings were published online on September 2 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
The researchers note that maternal PTSD may be associated with increased risk for child maltreatment and child exposure to traumatic events. They explain that exposure to multiple traumatic events is associated with a wide range of adverse health and social outcomes in children. Therefore, they conducted a study to examine the association of probable maternal depression, PTSD, and comorbid PTSD and depression (suffering from both depression and PTSD) with the risk for child maltreatment and parenting stress and with the number of traumatic events to which preschool children are exposed.
The study group comprised 97 inner-city mothers of children aged three to five years. Data was obtained at a pediatric primary care visit and subjected to statistical analysis. The investigators looked for cases of probable maternal depression and/or PTSD, parenting stress, child exposure to traumatic events, and child maltreatment.
The investigators found that mothers with probable comorbid PTSD and depression reported greater child-directed psychological aggression and physical assault and greater parenting stress. The children of mothers with PTSD (average number of events the child was exposed to: 5.0) or with comorbid PTSD and depression (3.5 events) experienced more traumatic events than those of mothers with depression (1.2 events) or neither disorder (1.4 events). Traumatic events included neighborhood shootings, domestic violence, dog bites, or car accidents. The researchers noted that the severity of depressive symptoms uniquely predicted physical assault and neglect. Symptom scores for PTSD and depression interacted to predict psychological aggression and child exposure to traumatic events. When PTSD symptom severity scores were high, psychological aggression and the number of traumatic events children experienced rose. Depressive symptom severity scores predicted the risk for psychological aggression and exposure to traumatic events only when PTSD symptom severity scores were low.
The authors concluded that children of mothers with PTSD are exposed to more traumatic events. In addition PTSD is associated with an increased risk for child maltreatment beyond that associated with depression. They recommended that screening and intervention for maternal PTSD, in addition to maternal depression, may increase our ability to reduce children's exposure to traumatic stress and maltreatment.
Take home message:
Although this study was conducted among inner-city residents in New York, the findings would be applicable to children who reside in inner-city Los Angeles neighborhoods.