Girls aged 9-13 who fight with mothers at higher risk of depression, study finds

Report is latest tranche in ESRI and Trinity College Dublin’s Growing Up in Ireland project

Being in a household undergoing change, such as from a two-parent to single-parent or vice-versa – puts children at far higher risk of having emotional difficulties, according to the report. Photograph: iStock

Being in a household undergoing change, such as from a two-parent to single-parent or vice-versa – puts children at far higher risk of having emotional difficulties, according to the report. Photograph: iStock

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Conflict with mothers is an “important predictor” of depression among girls aged between nine and 13, according to a new study, which finds that boys having bad relations with their fathers puts them at a greater risk.

The report – the latest tranche of the Economic and Social Research Institute and Trinity College Dublin’s Growing Up in Ireland project – says that being in a household undergoing change, such as from a two-parent to single-parent or vice-versa – puts children at far higher risk of having emotional difficulties.

The study draws on interviews with 7,400 children and their parents conducted in two waves: at age nine in 2008/9 and again at aged 13.

While in 88 per cent of cases parents of 13-year-olds said their children were “not displaying any significant levels of difficulty in terms of social-emotional wellbeing”, 16 per cent of 13-year-olds described themselves having symptoms “consistent with a diagnosis of depression”. This was higher among girls (18 per cent) than boys (14 per cent).

Alcohol

Some 15.5 per cent of respondents had drank more than a few sips of alcohol, with boys more likely to have done so. However, just 7 per cent had consumed a whole drink in the previous year and 3.5 per cent had been drunk at least once.

Nine per cent of respondents had previously smoked a cigarette and 2 per cent described themselves as smokers, with about half of these smoking every day.

About 7 per cent of the children were categorised as “having difficulties at both aged nine and 13”.

“This is the group about which we should be most concerned, as their social, emotional and behavioural problems were likely becoming more entrenched,” the report says.

For girls, “experiencing any change in household structure between nine and 13” was associated with an increase in risk for poorer outcomes.

“Girls who experienced a transition from a single-parent to a two-parent household between waves were almost 10 times more likely to be in a ‘high risk’ group than a ‘low risk’ group,” the study says.

Older friends

Among boys, factors associated with high risk for mental health problems included having older friends and experiencing any household change between waves.

“Boys who experienced household transitions were two to four times more likely (depending on the nature of the transition) to be in a ‘high risk’ group than a ‘low risk’ group,” it says.

For both boys and girls, protective factors included higher maternal education, having more than one friend, and low conflict with mothers and fathers.

“For girls, having fewer friends was associated with greater difficulties, while for boys having more friends was.”