A study led by a Curtin University researcher has found a link between postnatal depression in pregnant mothers and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) in their children.
The study, released to the public on Friday, surveyed a cohort of 7,994 mother-offspring pairs. It found that children of mothers that experienced depressive symptoms during pregnancy were four times as likely to later be diagnosed with the ODD.
The ODD is a behavioural disorder characterised by defiant, disobedient, and hostile behavior beginning in childhood or adolescence. It is estimated that 1 in 10 children in Australia are at some point diagnosed with the disorder, with it being twice as likely to develop in boys.
Author of the study, Dr. Berihun Dachew from Curtin University told Xinhua on Friday that while perinatal depression has been linked to a number of neurodevelopmental and mental health conditions in children, "the risk of ODD in offspring has not been established."
"Our study examined the association of perinatal depression with offspring ODD at four developmental time points: ages 7, 10, 13 and 15 years," Dachew said, adding this allowed the team to observe how the condition progressed in children over the years.
What they found were direct links to depressive episodes during and after the child's mother gave birth.
He said that while the study could suggest a "shared genetic vulnerability" to certain mental health issues, environment likely remains the dominant factor.
According to a governmental report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, around 1 in 5 mothers suffer from some form of depression during and after pregnancy, and is even more frequent among young and economically disadvantaged women.
Ultimately this study adds one more reason to identify and manage maternal depression.
Dachew said he hopes further studies are able to provide better and earlier treatments for women who suffer from such depressive symptoms, and then their children who may feel its aftereffects.
"Therefore, early intervention and treatment are essential, and our study sheds light on key modifiable risk factors involved in the development of ODD," said Dachew.