Are mothers having children with autism more likely to suffer from depression?

Depression, a state of deep sadness that further affects mental and physical health, is yet to be appropriately addressed as a mental health issue in many parts of the world.

On this World Health Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a campaign on “Depression: Let’s Talk,” aiming to mobilise action to address and tackle depression worldwide.

Reports say that globally, mothers are more prone to depression which might occur at any stage during, before or after pregnancy and that maternal depression is more likely to be found in South Asian countries.

Mothers having children with autism may experience depression. Photo: icddr,b

A new icddr,b study is exploring whether mothers who have children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are affected by depression.

“Mothers of children with ASD have reported a high level of depression and attributes to a lower quality of life” says Dr Aliya Naheed, head of initiative for non-communicable diseases (NCD) at icddr,b and principal investigator of the study that has been conducted in collaborations with national and international experts supported by the Harvard Medical School Center for Global Health Delivery Dubai of Harvard Medical School, UAE.

“Our preliminary survey in Dhaka has suggested that mothers who have a child with ASD commonly suffer from illnesses for which they have access to care, but mental health is not addressed in routine health care and depression, which is a common co-morbidity with a chronic health condition in Bangladesh remains untreated,” she says.

Depression: Let's Talk. Poster: WHO

Dr Naheed emphasises that mental health, particularly depression, is an important area to conduct research on, since it may lead a mother to negative health-related behaviours, including negative parenting, and affect health and development of a child as well as social harmony” she explains.

The study aims to assess whether it is possible to introduce mental health services for mothers experiencing depression at the special schools for children with ASD and combine it with maternal training for enhancing skills of mothers for child care at home.

If successful, the intervention can be scaled up for a larger trial and assess impact of the intervention on maternal depression widely, she adds.

A WHO Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems (WHO-AIMS) country report on Bangladesh shows that mental health issues need greater attention at the policy-level. Dr Naheed is expecting more policy-level discussions to address individuals and communities with autism & neurodevelopmental disorders, at an international conference set to be held in this April in Bhutan, which will be attended by health ministers from South-East Asia including Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.