The effects of maternal depression on children

Donna M. Gelfand, Douglas M. Teti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

446 Scopus citations


This review examines whether children of depressed mothers have elevated rates of psychopathology, and if so, why. The mothers studied ranged from the clinically depressed to those with depressed mood only, and both empirical and theoretical literatures were reviewed. Maternal depression was associated with undesirable parenting practices such as unresponsiveness, inattentiveness, intrusiveness, inept discipline, and negative perceptions of children. Age-typical forms of child psychopathology accompanied maternal depression and associated stressors such as marital discord. Methodological limitations include small, unrepresentative, and heterogeneous samples, depressed parents' unverified reports of child problems, and insensitivity to developmental differences. Incomplete theoretical explanations focus on limited sets of maternal characteristics or highly restricted child age ranges. Needed are methods to predict child adjustment outcomes, attending particularly to parent-child goodness-of-fit, and the role of the father and siblings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)329-353
Number of pages25
JournalClinical Psychology Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1990

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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