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Matern Child Health J. 2006 Jan;10(1):105-12.

The relationship of depressive symptoms to parenting competence and social support in inner-city mothers of young children.

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Department of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York 10461, USA.



Despite the high prevalence of maternal depression and its negative consequences for children, many pediatricians fail to identify this problem. Our goal was to determine whether simple questions about parenting competence and the adequacy of maternal social support might be useful to providers in determining which inner-city mothers are likely to be depressed.


We surveyed a convenience sample of 279 English-speaking mothers of children 6 months to 3 years old prior to a routine visit at an urban, hospital-based general pediatrics clinic. The mothers self-completed the Psychiatric Symptom Index (PSI) and the Parenting Stress Index Sense of Competence subscale, and rated the adequacy of their social support, and provided health and sociodemographic data by face-to-face interview.


41% of mothers had "high" PSI symptom levels and 22% had scores above a criterion that suggests major depressive disorder. In addition, 15% experienced high parenting stress (low competence) and 42% reported little or no social support. High distress was unrelated to a variety of sociodemographic risk factors, but significantly associated with a poor sense of parenting competence (Adj. OR = 3.3, 95% CI = 1.5, 7.0) and inadequate perceived social support (Adj. OR = 2.3, 95% CI = 1.2, 4.4), as well as with having health-related activity limitations (Adj. OR = 3.2, 95% CI = 1.1, 9.0).


Negative ratings of parenting competence, low perceived social support, and presence of health-related activity restrictions can be useful markers of likely depression among inner-city mothers of young children. These factors are often assessed during routine pediatric visits and may be helpful to pediatricians in identifying mothers needing further evaluation or treatment by mental health specialists.

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