Melissa Doody believes postpartum depression had such a negative impact on her parenting abilities that it’s the reason her seven-year-old daughter has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) today.
“Her needs would frustrate or anger me, almost like they were an inconvenience to me,” the Edmonton mom of two told HuffPost Canada. “How could I love and care for someone else when I couldn’t even do it for myself?”
While Doody’s anguish over those early days of raising her daughter is evident and understandable, researchers are urging moms not to blame themselves, as the causes of ADHD are still unknown. A new Australian study suggests there’s evidence that a link exists between “parenting hostility” (over-controlling, negative, or rigid enforcement of rules) displayed by mothers experiencing postpartum depression and ADHD in children aged eight to nine years old. But while the study connects these, it does not say that one causes the other.
“ADHD is a condition where no one cause has been identified,” study author Emma Sciberras told HuffPost Canada. “In this study, we wanted to understand more about the link between parent mental health symptoms and ADHD in order to ensure that parents are provided with adequate support.”
“Mothers should not feel that they are to blame for their child’s ADHD,” Sciberras said. “We suspect that children’s challenging behaviour early in life may be connected to mother’s postnatal mental health.”.
ADHD is one of the most common mental health conditions in children, according to Statistics Canada. It affects over seven per cent of children worldwide. Children with ADHD can exhibit inappropriate levels of hyperactive, inattentive, and impulsive behaviours which can cause them immense difficulties at school and later in life.
Studies have shown parents of children with ADHD experience more stress than parents whose children don’t have ADHD.
The link with postpartum depression
Up to 20 per cent of Canadian women develop a maternal mental illness such as PPD during pregnancy and/or the postpartum period. Symptoms of PPD vary from mild to severe and can include feelings of intense sadness, irritability, fatigue, anxiety and panic. If left untreated, the depression can become chronicand impact the child’s neurological development.
The Australian study, published in the Journal of European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, used data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, which included 3,456 biological mothers and children. Sciberras says her study emphasizes that assistance for parents coping with challenging behaviour early in the child’s life might be helpful.
“Postnatal mental health is only one factor connected to ADHD,” Sciberras said. “Our results suggest that it is important to help moms experiencing postnatal mental health difficulties early in [their child’s] life with adequate support and strategies.”
As it stands in Canada, there is no mandatory universal screening of prenatal or postpartum depression. The onus is on women to come forward with symptoms and once assessed and diagnosed, often discover a lack of resources in the community to help.
While the study results are correlative, Doody still believes her PPD played a role in her daughter’s diagnosis.
“My doctor and I came to the conclusion that I had postpartum depression after my first but it was not treated or dealt with properly,” Doody said.
“I now have a daughter who has other mental health issues on top of ADHD because I was unable to give her the attention and care she needed. This is what depression cost me.”