A Prospective Examination of the Contribution of Postnatal Maternal Depression and Personality to Aggressive Behaviour in Young Children

  • Fay Huntley

Student thesis: Unknown


AbstractThe University of Manchester, Fay Huntley, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)A Prospective Examination of the Contribution of Postnatal Maternal Depression and Personality to Aggressive Behaviour in Young ChildrenMay 2013Early-onset aggression in children has been linked to later difficulties in childhood and adulthood. Understanding of the antecedents and mechanisms that may lead to this early-onset aggression is still somewhat limited and, in this study, the roles of mothers' depression and personality disorder symptoms (personality dysfunction) were investigated. Three questions were addressed: Does postnatal maternal depression predict children's aggression independently of mothers' depression during pregnancy, current depression (present at the time of reporting), and potential confounders? Does maternal personality dysfunction predicted children's aggression? Does mothers' personality dysfunction accounted for associations between mothers' depression and child aggression? It was also examined whether mothers' relationship establishment with an antisocial partner would mediate associations between personality dysfunction and child aggression. Methods As part of a wider study, a consecutive, community-based sample of first-time mothers were followed longitudinally from pregnancy to age 2.5 years (30 months). Mothers completed the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale at 32 weeks gestation, and at 5, 8, 28 and 58 weeks postnatally, and when the children were 30 months. Longitudinal Latent Class Analysis was used to model mother's postnatal depression symptoms. Personality disorder symptoms and relationship establishment were assessed using semi-structured interviews in pregnancy. Child aggression was assessed using the Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL) and an interview designed to assess physical aggression at 30 months. A total of 244 mothers completed both aggression outcomes. Results A trajectory characterised by elevated maternal depression symptoms was significantly associated with child aggression when examined separately. However, mothers' postnatal depression did not independently predict children's aggression when examined with current depression and one of the confounders, psychological abuse within relationships. Mothers' borderline personality dysfunction significantly predicted CBCL aggression after accounting for postnatal depression and confounding variables, with both borderline dysfunction and current depression contributing jointly to child aggression. The associations between mothers' borderline personality dysfunction and children's physical aggression did not remain when psychosocial confounders were included in the models. No evidence was found for mediation via mothers' relationship establishment and presence of an antisocial partner, but both were significantly associated with children's CBCL aggression. Conclusions The findings are the first to demonstrate the importance of mother's borderline personality dysfunction in the development of aggression in young children, particularly in predicting the broad aggression construct measured using the CBCL. The evidence for the role of postnatal depression was inconclusive, whilst current depression was a significant predictor. Mothers' borderline personality dysfunction evidenced a significant prediction to aggression after accounting for depression. Further, mother-reported levels of psychological abuse, relationship establishment and an antisocial partner all emerged as significantly associated with children's aggression. The findings have implications for practitioners working with pregnant and postpartum women by indicating a number of factors associated with children's aggression, which could be readily assessed and targeted for intervention. In particular, the findings suggest that screening of borderline personality disorder symptoms may be beneficial.
Date of Award3 Jan 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJonathan Hill (Supervisor)

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