Chronically Depressed Rural Moms May Face Greater Health Problems

Moms in poor rural communities who struggle with chronic depression may face more health problems, according to a new study at Washington State University (WSU).

The researchers used data from the ongoing, multi-state Rural Families Speak project to analyze the experiences of 23 mothers with clinical depression across three years.

The findings, published in the Journal of Family Social Work, show that moms who were chronically depressed experienced more health problems, distrusted doctors and had a worse outlook on their lives, compared with moms whose symptoms improved. The mothers’ depression also affected those closest to them.

“Mothers are one of the main supports of the family,” said Dr. Yoshie Sano, associate professor in WSU’s Department of Human Development, and the lead author on the paper. “They’re raising children, paying bills, and organizing events. When they’re depressed, the entire family is impacted.”

More than one in five adults struggles with depression, a mood disorder that causes persistent sadness, exhaustion and loss of interest, affecting relationships, work, and emotional and physical health. Women are twice as likely to experience depression compared to men, and people in poverty are three times more likely to experience it.

“Depression affects everything — employability, parenting, how we deal with daily life,” said Sano. “Mental health is the core of a productive life.”

As part of her research into family relationships through Rural Families Speak, Sano kept encountering mothers from rural, low-income families who were dealing with depression.

While quite a bit of research has shown how depression affects childhood development, Sano wanted to understand the broader context of maternal depression.

Both moms who were depressed but improving as well as those with chronic depression had similar struggles in dealing with their children’s health.

However, chronically depressed moms faced greater challenges in dealing with their children’s emotional and behavioral issues, which were often compounded by a lack of childcare options, employment, concerns for delinquent behaviors and day-to-day behavioral management issues.

“We found that children’s health, particularly their emotional and behavioral health, is one of the most challenging contributors to maternal depression,” Sano said. “Depression doesn’t happen in isolation. It happens in a family, community, and cultural context.”

Policymakers often focus on physical health as a direct obstacle to self-sufficiency for low-income families, said Sano.

“But especially for moms, mental health is the major obstacle,” she said. “There’s a huge stigma around mental health, especially in rural areas. Women try to deal with it alone.”

The study found that chronically depressed mothers expressed strong distrust of health-care professionals and their prescribed treatments.

“It’s critical for mothers to find at least one provider with whom they can build a trusting relationship — someone who knows their overall health histories, understands their family histories, and listens to their concerns,” Sano said.

Source: Washington State University

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