Office of Epidemiology and Research, Division of Research

Advancing Applied MCH Research

(SDAS) Maternal Depression, Mental Health Seeking Pattern, and Child Development in US Immigrant Families

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Project Number: R40 MC 07842-01
Grantee: Georgetown University
Department/Center: School of Nursing/NHS
Project Date: 1/1/2007

Final Report

(SDAS) Maternal Depression, Mental Health Seeking Pattern, and Child Development in US Immigrant Families Final Report (PDF) Exit Disclaimer

Principal Investigator

Zhihuan Jennifer Huang, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor
3700 Reservoir Road, NW Box 571107
Washington, DC  20057-1107
Phone: (202) 687-4530


  • Women/Maternal
  • Perinatal/Infancy (0-12 months)
  • Toddlerhood (13-35 months)
  • Early Childhood (3-5 years)


Decades of research show that maternal depression is among the most consistent risk factors for childhood anxiety and disruptive behavior disorders. Infants and toddlers of depressed mothers can develop serious emotional disorders such as infant depression and attachment disorders. Older children of mothers who were depressed during the child's infancy are also more likely to exhibit poor self-control, aggression, poor peer relationships, and difficulty in school. Increasingly, the contextual factors at family-, neighborhood-, and community-levels that accompany parental depression have been viewed as exerting influences on the developing child. However, there is a lack of knowledge on how these contextual factors moderate or mediate the impact of maternal depression in immigrant families. It is also essential to describe the role of protective resources in immigrant families, including cultural values, household composition, and coping skills that may buffer the effects of maternal depression. Focusing on a cohort of foreign-born mothers, the study will examine the relationship of maternal depression, mental health-seeking patterns, as well as contextual resiliency and risk factors (as moderators or mediators) to mother-child interaction patterns and children's early social-emotional development. Collectively, the percentage of children living in the U.S. with at least one foreign-born parent rose from 15 percent in 1999 to 20 percent in 2002. Studies have shown that the dynamics of the immigration experience have served as both protective and risk factors for the mental health of immigrant women. Meanwhile, immigrants are less likely than non-Hispanic whites to use mental health services. The study will utilize an ecological framework to investigate the effect of maternal depression among foreign-born mothers on their children's early social-emotional development. The secondary analysis will be conducted using 3 waves (at 9 months, 2 years, and 4 years) of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey - Birth Cohort data. As a nationally representative, longitudinal dataset that emphasizes the study of immigrant families, it provides a valuable resource for exploring research questions regarding contextual influences as mediators/moderators of maternal depression and social-emotional development of immigrant children in the U.S. This project will address three current MCHB Strategic Research Issues (#2: to eliminate health disparities and barriers to health care access for MCH populations; #3: to assure quality of care for MCH populations; #4: promoting the healthy development of MCH populations).


Listed is descending order by year published.

Huang ZJ, Lewin A, Mitchell SJ, Zhang J. Variations in the relationship between maternal depression, maternal sensitivity, and child attachment by race/ethnicity and nativity: findings from a nationally representative cohort study. Matern Child Health J. 2012 Jan;16(1):40-50.


Depression, Immigrant Populations, Social & Emotional Development, Parent-Child Relationship, Mental Health & Wellbeing, Health Disparities, Depression

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