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J Nerv Ment Dis. 2005 Jun;193(6):369-78.

Timing of mental illness onset and motherhood.

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  • 1School of Social Work, University of Michigan, 1080 S. University Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.


The timing of mental illness onset in relationship to birth of children was explored as a possible indicator of the extent to which mothers experienced difficulties in parenting and functioning. Analyses employed data from a longitudinal study of urban-based, primarily minority mothers with mental illness (N = 379) who had parenting responsibility for their minor children. We found that women who were parents first and experienced mental illness onset after the birth of all their children showed the most positive trajectories over the study course. Mothers whose mental illness onset occurred before the birth of any of their children also showed improvements in functioning and symptomatology over time. In contrast, mothers whose mental illness onset had occurred in temporal proximity to the birth of a child showed little improvement. They also were younger, on average, at first birth, and had the largest number of children. Thus, timing of mental illness onset and childbirth may be predictive of longer-term maternal functioning and therefore may be useful in clinical assessment and treatment.

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