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Maternal PTSD Linked to Child Abuse

Update Date: Sep 03, 2013 02:21 PM EDT

Posttraumatic stress disorder in mothers is linked to a higher risk of child abuse than maternal depression, according to new research.

Researchers said that the mental well being of a caregiver is an important risk factor for child maltreatment.  Previous studies linked maternal depression to increased use of corporal punishment and physical abuse of children.

Up until recently, research on maternal depression and maltreatment risk has largely ignored the high rate of comorbidity between depression and PTSD. A recent survey by the National Comorbidity Survey revealed that 24.7 percent of depressed women have PTSD and 48.4 percent of women with PTSD have depression.

The latest study looked how maternal depression, PTSD as well as comorbid PTSD and depression, affects the risk of child maltreatment and parenting stress. Researchers also looked that the number of traumatic events that preschool children are exposed to.

The research involved 97 mothers of children ages 3 to 5 years old.

Researchers found that children of mothers with PTSD or with comorbid PTSD and depression experienced more traumatic events than those of mothers with depression or neither disorder.

The study revealed that psychological aggression and the number of traumatic events children experienced increased when PTSD symptom severity scores were high. Researchers found that depressive symptom severity scores were also associated with the risk for psychological aggression and exposure to traumatic events when PTSD symptom severity scores were low.

"Mothers in the comorbid group reported the highest levels of physically and psychologically abusive behaviors and overall parenting stress. Although not statistically significant, mothers with depression alone showed a trend toward endorsing more physically abusive and neglectful parenting behaviors," researchers wrote.

"Given the high comorbidity between PTSD and depression, these findings suggest the importance of measuring PTSD symptoms when considering the relationship between depression and increased risk for child maltreatment," they added.

The findings are published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics

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