Maternal Depression and Anxiety Linked to Offspring ADHD

February 12, 2021
Kenny Walter

Researchers find an increased risk of offspring ADHD symptoms due to maternal anxiety.

Maternal psychiatric conditions could forecast the likelihood the offspring will develop attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in late adolescence, according to new research.

A team, led by Getinet Ayano, MSc, School of Public Health, Curtin University, explored the association between maternal anxiety and depressive symptoms and the risk of ADHD symptoms in late adolescence.

Previous research has shown that maternal anxiety and depressive symptoms are linked to an increased risk of ADHD in offspring in early and late childhood. However, there is not many studies conducted examining the risk of ADHD in late adolescence.

The researchers used data from the Raine Study and measured maternal depressive and anxiety symptoms when each child was 10 years old using the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale (DASS).

The investigators also assessed offspring ADHD symptoms at age 17 using the DSM-oriented scales of the child behavior checklist (CBCL). In addition, the research team used log-binomial regression to explore these associations.

Risk Factors

Overall, there was an increased risk of ADHD symptoms in offspring of mothers with comorbid anxiety and depressive symptoms when compared to the offspring of mothers with no symptoms (RR, 5.60; 95% CI, 3.02-10.37).

However, there was nearly a three-fold increase in the risk of ADHD symptoms in the offspring of mothers with increased anxiety symptoms specifically when compared to the offspring of mothers who were in the normal range (RR, 2.84; 95% CI, 1.18-6.83). There was no association observed involving the offspring of mothers with depressive symptoms.

“This study found an increased risk of ADHD symptoms in the offspring of mothers with anxiety as well as comorbid anxiety and depressive symptoms but not among the offspring of mothers with depressive symptoms,” the authors wrote. “Early screening and intervention for ADHD symptoms in offspring with maternal anxiety and comorbid anxiety and depressive symptoms are warranted.”

Link to Smoking

In the past, researchers have found links between parental behaviors and the risk of ADHD for offspring, including smoking.

Recently, researchers found secondhand exposure to smoke may have more of an impact on a child’s hyperactivity than prenatal exposure.

Using multiple regression and controlling for relevant covariates, the investigators reported that secondhand smoke (B = .17, t(215) = 2.37, P =.02) was largely associated with MVPA. However, this not the case for prenatal smoke exposure (P = .96).

Furthermore, secondhand smoke was associated with BASC scores as rated by parents (B =. 17, t(215) = 2.37, P =.02) and teachers (B=.18, t(146)=2.07, P = .04), when controlling for prenatal exposure.

There was no association between these scores and prenatal exposure (P = .58).

The investigators also noted there was no significant association between MVPA and BASC scores or MVPA and child BMI, findings which they considered surprising.

Overall, the team concluded that smoking after birth continues to be a risk factor for hyperactivity and ADHD in such children.

The study, “i Maternal depressive and anxiety symptoms and the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms in offspring aged 17: Findings from the Raine Study,” was published online in the Journal of Affective Disorders.


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