Depressive symptoms in inner-city mothers of young children: Who is at risk?

Amy M. Heneghan, Ellen Johnson Silver, Laurie J. Bauman, Lauren E. Westbrook, Ruth E.K. Stein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


Objective. To identify factors associated with depressive symptoms in inner-city mothers of young children. Design. A cross-sectional survey was administered to a convenience sample of English-speaking mothers attending a well-child visit for a child aged 6 months to 3 years in a hospital-based, inner-city, general pediatric clinic. The maternal interview collected data on sociodemographic characteristics, and mothers' health and financial status. Mothers completed the Psychiatric Symptom Index (PSI), a 29-item checklist shown to have very good validity and reliability in a multicultural population. A total score of ≥20 represents high levels of symptoms; scores ≥30 strongly suggest major depression. Results. Two hundred seventy-nine mothers completed the PSI. Mothers ranged in age from 14 to 48 years (mean, 27 years). Seventy-one percent were unmarried; 57% received public assistance. Forty-two percent of mothers were Hispanic, 40% black, 9% white, and 10% mixed or other races. Forty-eight percent were foreign-born. Twenty- four percent reported having a medical condition; 6% had activity limitation because of illness. The mean PSI score was 19; 18% of mothers had a PSI score 230 and 39% scored ≥20. PSI scores did not vary by age, race, birthplace, educational level, employment, marital status, or family composition. PSI scores were higher for mothers receiving public assistance (21 vs 17), with self-reports of poor or fair financial status (22 vs 15) and poor health status (52 vs 17). Mothers with activity limitations because of illness had significantly higher PSI scores (34 vs 18). Multiple regression analyses confirmed the independent relationships of these maternal characteristics to high PSI scores. Conclusions. Depressive symptoms in inner-city mothers of young children are common. In this population of women with many risk factors, traditional sociodemographic risk factors did not successfully identify those who are depressed. However, mothers' self-reports of poor financial status, health status, or activity limitation because of illness were associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms. These findings may assist clinicians in distinguishing which mothers are likely to be depressed when almost all are at high risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1394-1400
Number of pages7
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1998


  • Depression
  • Mothers
  • Screening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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