Positive Family Environment May Mitigate Depression Risk in Mothers of Children With Epilepsy

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Investigators predicted the prevalence of depressive symptoms among mothers over the first 10 years after their children were diagnosed with epilepsy and identified trajectories of maternal depressive symptoms over time and baseline characteristics related to each trajectory.

A study has found that many mothers of children with epilepsy are at risk for depression, a risk that can potentially be mitigated by a positive family environment at time of epilepsy diagnosis, including a stable family income and better access to support resources. Findings from this study can be found in Epilepsia.

The Health‐Related Quality of Life in Children with Epilepsy Study (HERQULES), a cohort of children with newly diagnosed epilepsy, was used to collect data on child, parent, and family characteristics at the time of epilepsy diagnosis. Additional data time points included follow-ups at 6 months and 1, 2, 8, and 10 years. The researchers assessed maternal depressive symptoms with the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) in 356 mothers of children with epilepsy. Latent class growth modeling and multinomial logistic regression analyses were used to identify trajectories of depressive symptoms and baseline factors associated with each trajectory, respectively.

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Approximately 57% of mothers included in the analysis were at risk for major depression, with these participants scoring ≥16 on the CES-D at any of the 6 time points. The researchers identified 4 unique trajectories of depressive symptoms over time, including low‐stable (few depressive symptoms; 29%), intermediate‐stable (elevated depressive symptoms relative to low-stable group; 46%), high‐stable (at-risk range for major depressive disorder; 20%), and high‐decreasing (high baseline CES-D scores that decreased over the 10-year period; 5%).

Factors associated with a better trajectory of depressive symptoms included having a positive family environment (ie, income, support resources, demands, and functioning), being older, living with a partner, having a college/university education, and having a child without a cognitive comorbidity at time of epilepsy diagnosis.

Limitations of the study included attrition (only 45% of the original sample had completed questionnaires over the entire 10-year follow-up) and the lack of adjustment for any mental health medications the mothers may have taken during the study.

“The stability in depressive symptoms over the 10‐year period, despite favorable seizure outcomes, highlights the need for targeting parental mental health, possibly through family‐focused interventions,” the researchers concluded. “Given the strong evidence that parental and child health and well‐being are closely linked, greater recognition of the impact of epilepsy on parents and the family is needed.”


Puka K, Ferro MA, Anderson KK, Speechley KN. Prevalence and trajectories of depressive symptoms among mothers of children with newly diagnosed epilepsy: a longitudinal 10-year study. Epilepsia. 2019;60(2):358-366.