Growing Up In Scotland: Maternal mental health and its impact on child behaviour and development

This document reports how many mothers in Scotland experience poor mental health in the first four years of their child’s life, as well as the characteristics of these women. It further shows the impacts of maternal mental health on child development and behaviour.


2.1 Project Aim

The overall aim of the research is to explore the impacts of poor maternal mental health on children's pre-school emotional, cognitive and behavioural development.

2.2 Specific objectives

The specific objectives are to explore:

  • The incidence of brief and repeated poor mental health among mothers of young children in Scotland
  • The impacts on children's development and behaviour of brief exposure to poor mental health
  • The impacts on children's development and behaviour of repeated exposure to poor mental health

The research questions associated with each of these objectives are:

  • How many mothers in Scotland experience poor mental health in the first four years?
  • What are the characteristics of these women?
  • What are the longer-term impacts on child development and behaviour (at age 4) of a brief period of maternal emotional ill-health?
  • What are the impacts on child development and behaviour of persistent (long-standing or repeated) exposure to maternal emotional ill-health?

2.3 Summary of methods

This paper is based on the women who were interviewed at the time of the first sweep of GUS in 2005, when their baby was aged 10 months old. 4 This analysis looks at data from natural mothers interviewed at that time and who were then subsequently interviewed on three other occasions, each year until their children were aged 46 months. Different instruments were used at different sweeps to assess maternal mental health. The methods section (Appendix A) details what instruments were used and how we classified women in terms of the mental health scores for each of the measures. The findings that we report in this paper look at maternal mental health at different points and assess whether the mother's mental health is associated with the cognitive development of her child when he or she is almost three years old, and emotional, behavioural and social development when the child is almost four. In particular, we have looked at whether there were differences between the children of women who had poor mental health at only one point, at two or more points in the four years of the survey or were mentally well at all times that the survey was conducted. In our analyses we have used statistical techniques which allow us to look at the relationship between a mother's mental well-being and her child's development, but which control for other factors - such as the mother's age or marital status - which may affect both the mother's emotional well-being and the child's development. Appendix A provides a full description of the methods we used to conduct these analyses, including description of the statistical techniques employed. 5

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