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NIH Encourages Depressed Moms to Seek Treatment for Themselves

Science Update

woman holding child while sitting on a chair

Numerous studies have suggested that depression runs in families. Children of depressed parents are 2–3 times as likely to develop depression as compared to children who do not have a family history of the disorder.1 Other studies have shown that remission of depression in mothers is associated with improvements in psychiatric symptoms in their children.2 Despite all signs encouraging mothers to prioritize their own mental health, many suffer from untreated depression while managing treatment for their children's emotional or behavioral problems.3

An NIH Challenge grant was awarded on behalf of NIMH to Judy Garber, Ph.D., of Vanderbilt University, to develop and test a method encouraging depressed mothers to follow treatment recommendations. For this study, Garber is recruiting 200 mothers of children receiving psychiatric treatment at a community mental health center.

All study participants will receive a referral for treatment and an information pamphlet describing the symptoms of depression and anxiety, possible effects of depression on children, and different types of treatments. Randomly assigned participants will also receive a brief, one-session Enhanced Motivation Intervention (EMI). EMI uses special interviewing techniques to identify and resolve a person's concerns about and practical barriers to treatment.

The researchers anticipate that EMI will result in more participants getting treatment for mental disorders compared with the control group. If successful, such interventions would not only benefit the depressed individual, but may improve the well-being of her children as well.

The NIH Challenge Grants in Health and Science Research  program is a new initiative funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) . This program supports research on 15 broad Challenge Areas that address specific scientific and health research challenges in biomedical and behavioral research that will benefit from an influx of significant two-year funds to quickly advance the area.

Within these Challenge Areas, NIMH identified 35 topics of particular funding interest that advance the Institute's mission and the objectives outlined in the NIMH Strategic Plan, the Trans-NIH Plan for HIV-Related Research, and the National Advisory Mental Health Council report on research training. These topics can be found at NIMH's Challenge Grant web page.


1Weissman MM, Wickramaratne P, Nomura Y, Warner V, Pilowsky D, Verdeli H. Offspring of depressed parents: 20 years later. Am J Psychiatry. 2006 Jun;163(6):1001-8. PubMed PMID: 16741200.

2Pilowsky DJ, Wickramaratne P, Talati A, Tang M, Hughes CW, Garber J, Malloy E, King C, Cerda G, Sood AB, Alpert JE, Trivedi MH, Fava M, Rush AJ, Wisniewski S, Weissman MM. Children of depressed mothers 1 year after the initiation of maternal treatment: findings from the STAR*D-Child Study. Am J Psychiatry. 2008 Sep;165(9):1136-47. Epub 2008 Jun 16. PubMed PMID: 18558646.

3Verdeli H, Ferro T, Wickramaratne P, Greenwald S, Blanco C, Weissman MM. Treatment of depressed mothers of depressed children: pilot study of feasibility. Depress Anxiety. 2004;19(1):51-8. PubMed PMID: 14978786.