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15. Maternal Mental Health

A mother’s mental and emotional health plays a key role in her child’s development. Healthy development depends on a child having a close nurturing relationship with his or her primary caretaker.  When a mother is suffering from depression, anxiety, or other mental health concern, she is much less able to respond adequately to her child’s needs. This interferes with bonding that is essential for healthy social emotional development. Social and emotional health is critical to all other parts of a child’s development. Without a strong social-emotional foundation, other developmental domains suffer.

What Can the Data Tell Us?

Data from the National Survey on Children’s Health reveal that poverty is an important indicator of a mother’s mental health (Table 25). Children living in households with incomes below the poverty level are seven times more likely to have a mother whose mental state is rated as fair or poor compared with mothers at or above 400 percent of the poverty level. Women of color are significantly more likely to suffer from mental health issues than white, non-Hispanic women. Research indicates this can be the result of discrimination—and the stress such discrimination produces. National data showing disparities in income and race/ethnicity mirrors data found in most states. Good data on maternal mental health helps advocates be more intentional in implementing programs, such as maternal mental health screening, designed to reach and respond to the needs of women of color and those living in poverty.

Table 25. Percentage of children’s whose mother's mental/emotional health status is fair or poor, U.S. and states, 2011-2012