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The effects of maternal depression on academic achievement of their children.

Byline: Shazia Ilyas and Uzma Ali


Objectives: The present study was conducted to determine the effect of Maternal Depression on level of academic achievement of their children.

Place and Duration of Study: This paper is a part of a Ph.D Dissertation and conducted during the period of 2005 to 2010 at Institute of Clinical Psychology, University of Karachi.

Hypotheses: After detailed literature review the following aspects were hypothesized. (1)Children of mothers having depressive symptoms will score low on the level of academic achievement (Spelling, Reading and Arithmetic) as compare to children of non depressed mothers. (2)There will be significant difference on the level of academic achievement , (spelling, Reading and Arithmetic ) between boys and girls of mothers having depressive symptoms.

Methods: The present study comprised of 120 participants ( 60 mothers and 60 children) divided in depressed and non depressed group after screening from normal population). Reading subtest of Wide Range achievement test was used to assess the reading level of mothers Reynolds Depression Screening Inventory (RDSI) was used to rule out sample of mothers with and without Depressive symptoms. Wide Range achievement test-three (WRAT-3) was administered on children to assess the level of Spelling, Reading and Arithmetic. Further Intake card and sheet of Institute of Clinical Psychology, University of Karachi was used to take the case history regarding general functioning of mother and their children. t-test was applied to assess the differences between groups.

Results: Findings showed non-significant differences on these variables, Spelling and Reading between children of depressed and non depressed mothers, however significant difference was revealed on the variable of Arithmetic between children of depressed and non depressed mother. Non-significant results with reference to gender difference between male and female children of depressed mothers were also revealed on Reading, spelling and Arithmetic skills.

Conclusion: This study highlighted the significance of mothers role in the academic achievement of their children and it do reflect significant difference of achievement related to computational skills between children of depressed and non depressed mothers.

Key Words: Maternal depression; children; academic achievement; gender difference


Depression is a psychological state which is if not treated then the disease can be prolong from week to years through recurrent attacks , even a single episode of clinical Major Depression can affects people's life negatively , for instance lack of enjoyment of sex and problems in Interpersonal relationships . According to Desjarlais. this widespread disorder of Depression is usually marked by feelings of low self worth , physical weakness, lack of interest and concentration in tasks , suicidal ideations and social isolation ( DSM-IV-TR ) . As far as cause of this psychiatric illness is concerned it comprises more than one dimensions, for instances biological factors, especially in females like hormones' disturbances , financial and relational problems like marital disputes , moreover few causes consists of purely psychological in origin like having feelings of rejection by significant people6.

A depressive state in mothers seems to have significant effects on their children, especially on their Neural development . Similarly a mother with depressed emotional state may develop confused form of attachment with children which predicts decreased "cognitive development" in their children . According to different researches since if the mother is depressed then she does not seem to be present psychologically for her children, she most of the time gets herself busy in different uncertainties and fears. Thus this mother barely builds adequate compassionate attachment with her child, and then as a consequence such children seem to have disturbed relations with peers. Whereas in adolescent age they have probability of getting more reckless, chances of getting drawn in antisocial activities, in addition to be turned into lower achievers in academies.

In one study the boys who were born when their mothers were at risk of continuous condition of depression scored low on Formal Achievement test at the age of 6 as compared to those children whose mothers' depression was not vital , thus this study revealed that the vigorous and long period of depression in mothers may put forth an unfavorable influence on performance of children ) , because bad experiences in early childhood may affect the later school's performance in such children .

Keeping in viewing all the worldwide research material we also wanted to find the effects of maternal depression on children in our culture. As skills of Spelling, Reading and Arithmetic are considered as building blocks of further education therefore these three skills were selected in our study to analyze in reference to mothers' ongoing emotional states in society of Pakistan. Because on one side this was the first study designed in our culture. On the other side as mothers have very significant role in academic performance of the child. It is observed that house wives of our societies automatically are being involved in school matters of their children because their husband are fully engaged with the earnings matters for their families.

It is hoped that its results give new dimensions for further researches and studies especially with reference to the culture of our country. Hopefully it would also be beneficial for professionals and researchers in understanding the effects of mothers psychological problems upon their children.



First sample consisted of 60 mothers (selected purposively) that were divided into two groups; each group consisted of 30 mothers (depressed mothers and non depressed mothers). .The second sample consist of 60 children, further divided into two groups 30 children (15 male and 15 female) of depressed mothers and 30 children (15 male and 15 female ) of non depressed mothers .

Inclusion Criteria for Mothers and their children

* residential areas (residencies of sample were chosen among five districts of Karachi, South, West, East, Malir and Central via Map of Karachi)

* Mothers from middle to upper middle class families.

* Mothers' education (minimum metric and current English level of Reading consisted of grade 6th).

* Nuclear family structure ( Wives and children were living with husbands/fathers in separate houses )

* Non working women (only taking care of husbands ,children and households)

* Mothers' age 18 and more; mean age of mothers was 39.

* Children's age 7 to 12 years, and mean age was 9

* Medium of studies of children at school was English


1. Reading subtest of Wide range Achievement test- three ( WRAT-3) Administered on mothers.

2. Reynolds Depression Screening Inventory:

This test was introduced by Reynolds and Kobak in 1998 and has been planned to assess the level and intensities of symptoms of depression, equivalent to diagnostic criteria of Depressive disorder (DSM-1V-TR, APA 2000) 5 in adults. The authors' objective in developing the test was to present clinicians and researchers with a psychometrically reliable and easy measuring tool to assess the severity of depressive symptoms. It was used as screening inventory for this research. There are total 19 items in this inventory. Reliability: The internal consistency reliability coefficient for total sample is .933 that perhaps considered as concise/brief self-report measures of symptomatology for depression . Validity: RDSI with total scale correlation coefficient = .50 to .83. And between BDI (Beck Depression Inventory) and RDSI the validity is .94 (pless than .001). Scoring: Scoring was done according to the procedure explained in manual.

Cut off scores, as given below according to the manual were used to sort out mothers with and without depressive symptoms. 0 to 10 = Not depressed or sub clinical level; 11 to 15 = Mild clinical depression;16 to 24 = Moderate clinical depression; greater than_ 25 = Severe clinical severity.

- Wide Range Achievement Test-Three( WRAT-3) administered on children:

The test was introduced by Wilkinson. It comprised of three subscales. Reading, Spelling and Arithmetic scale. The numbers of items in all sub scales are,( Spelling : 55 items, Reading : 57 and Arithmetic : 55 ). In this study it was used to assess the academic level of children in these three skills Spelling, Reading and Arithmetic. Scoring: As the procedure of scoring as has been mentioned in manual, therefore cut off scores were taken which represent the consistent grades' level on Spelling, Arithmetic and Reading's skills. Reliability: By Rasch Person Separation Indices the Internal consistency is .98 to .99. And for Retest Reliability the value is 91 to .98. Validity: By Rasch statistic of item separation the content validity is 1.00.

- Intake Card and Case History Sheet of Institute o clinical Psychology, University of Karachi

It is used in Institute of Clinical Psychology, University of Karachi to get the information of general emotional condition of a person. This form consists of two following portions. Intake Card: it is used for noting down the presenting psychological problems in the own words of the client. Case history sheet :it consist of list of those aspects which are helpful in making correct evaluation regarding client's current level of psychological well being , these features may add into client's ongoing emotional health either in the form of increasing his problems or keeping them apart from achieving utmost results from psychotherapies .


Through the map of Karachi five districts were chosen in which the participants (educated mothers) could be found with the assistance of references ( Purposive sampling ). After having consent in the first meeting at the residency of participants, Reading sub test of Wide Range Achievement test-three (WRAT-3) 22 was administered on mothers to sort out the educational level of the mothers. Thus those mothers were chosen who attained the 6th grade level on reading Skills. After having required sample of mothers, time and day were decided on which mothers and their children could easily be accessible for about 2 to 3 hours.

Part 1

In this part firstly Reynolds Depression Screening Inventory23 was administered on mothers. After the end of this test Intake Card and Case History Sheet was administered to get the information related to mothers' general emotional and physical health , in addition to those environmental and family features which may harmfully effect the psychological health , achievements and learning abilities of children . Scoring of Reynolds Depression Inventory was done according to manual's procedure, on the basis of cut off scores (such as 0-10: No depression; 11-15: mild depression; 16-24: moderate depression and greater than 25 severe depression).


A consent letter for the involvement in the study was signed by mothers initially during first meeting. After the establishing rapport with the child, WRAT-3 was administered. Scoring of WRAT-3 was done according to the manual.

Statistical Analysis

t-test was used to assess the difference between the level of academic skills in children of mothers with and without depressive state, in addition to find the differences on same variable between male and female children of depressed mothers.

Operational Definition

Academic achievement

The level achieves on spelling, reading and arithmetic skills on Wide Range Achievement Test-Three in the figure of raw scores ranges from 0 to 55 for spelling, 0 to 57 for reading and 0 to 55 for arithmetic test 22.


The range of raw scores displayed the symptoms of clinical depression which are consistent to "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV-TR; American Psychiatric Association, 20005)". The ranges of raw scores from 11 to more than 25 on the scale Reynolds depression screening inventory present an individual as having signs of clinical depression23.

Depressed Mothers

Depressed mothers are those whose scores fall between 11 to 25 points or more, on Reynolds Depression Screening Inventory 23 .

Non Depressed Mothers

Non depressed mothers are those whose scores fall between 0 to 10 points on Reynolds Depression Screening Inventory 23.

Children of Depressed mothers

Children of depressed others are those children whose mothers' raw scores fall between 11 to 25 or larger, on Reynolds Depression Screening Inventory 23 .

Children of non depressed mothers

Children of non depressed mothers are those whose mothers' raw scores fall between 0 to 10, Reynolds Depression Screening Inventory 23.


Table 1

The Mean Scores of Spelling Subtest (WRAT-3) of Children of Depressed Mothers (CDM) and Children of Non Depressed Mothers (CNDM)




Note: t= (66) .842,p greater than .05

There is an insignificant difference between mean scores of spelling subtest (WRAT-3) of Children of depressed and non depressed mother

Table 2

The Mean Scores of Reading Subtest (WRAT-3) of Children of Depressed Mothers (CDM ) and Children of Non Depressed Mothers (CNDM)




Note: t= (66) .573, p greater than .05.

There is non significant difference between mean scores of Reading subtest (WRAT-3) of Children of depressed and non depressed mother

Table 3

The Mean Scores of Arithmetic Subtest (WRAT-3) of Children of Depressed Mothers (CDM) and Children of Non Depressed Mothers (CNDM)




Note: t= (66) 2.300, p less than .000. ***

There is a significant difference between mean scores of Reading subtest (WRAT-3) of Children of depressed and non depressed mother

Table 4

Gender difference on Spelling (Subscale of Wrat-3) between male and female children of depressed mothers




Note:t=(28)1.629,p greater than .05.

There is non significant difference regarding gender on spelling subtest of children of depressed mother.

Table 5

Gender difference on Reading (Subscale of WRAT-3) between male and female children of depressed mothers




Note:t=(28).773,p greater than .05,

There is an non significant difference regarding gender on Reading Subtest of children of depressed mother

Table 6

Gender difference on Arithmetic (Subscale of Wrat-3) between male and female children of Depressed mothers




Note: t=(28)1.912,p greater than 0.05

There is an non significant difference regarding gender on Arithmetic Subtest of children of depressed mother.


The results have not revealed significant difference between two groups, Children of Depressed mothers (CDM) and children of Non Depressed mothers, on the variables of Spelling and Reading (see table 1 and 2). However significant differences are shown between children of depressed and non depressed mothers on the variable of Arithmetic (see table 3). The role of mother has significant place to build children's perception towards , education especially the concepts of Mathematics , therefore disturbed psychological behavior of mothers may cause children to be distressed emotionally also. Because mother's emotional problems may affect the psychological condition of the whole family environment . Therefore the similar reason may be presented in our study that depressed mothers' children perhaps did not get continuous , sufficient and required attention from their mothers in academics , especially in Arithmetic's which might get them score lower as compare to children of non depressed mothers.

However as skills of Spelling and Reading once are achieved by children then they may go on with these developed abilities very well with their own pace ,thus this may become a substitute justification of insignificant difference between children of two groups on these two variables as compare to Arithmetic. On the other hand there are two studies which depicts that maternal education and system of education may lessen the effects of maternal depression on academic performance of the child, thus in our study as we selected educated mothers and their children who were studied in English education systems which are considered as much better schools' systems regarding good syllabus and extracurricular activities in order to enhance the child's confidence level and personality build up , therefore perhaps due to these aspects our study did not show significant results between children of two groups on variables of the Spelling and Reading skills .

With reference to Gender difference it is clear in our study that there are insignificant differences on all three variables between Girls and Boys of Depressed mothers (see tables 4-6). Although previous work shows that on formal achievement test there were gender differences in association of maternal depression19 , but on the other hand it has also been revealed that there was no significant gender difference found regarding cognitive abilities . In our society since few years back like males, females are equally coming forward in professions. These professions usually require not only verbal skills but computational skills also, so thus in order to attain these fields not only males but females also are getting skilled equally in those fields which were considered as male oriented professions. Due to awareness generally equal opportunities are provided by parents and teachers to children for their education.

Thus perhaps this trend in female population getting the gender difference non-significant on not only reading but computational skills also. Therefore perhaps the similar score was revealed in our study which appeared in the form of non significant gender differences on all three basic skills (Reading, Spelling and Arithmetic) of academies.


Our study indicates that children of depressed mothers scored low on Arithmetic as compare to children of non depressed mothers. However on the rest of the variables there was insignificant difference between children of both groups. The same study also suggested insignificant difference between two groups on all three variables with reference to gender. It is concluded that maternal depression does have effects on children's academic achievement with reference computational skills. It is strongly recommended that clinical professionals should focus on an awareness programs about effects of mothers' disturbed psychological state on different aspects of children's life.

Shazia Ilyas and Uzma Ali, Institute of Clinical Psychology, University of Karachi

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Author:Ilyas, Shazia; Ali, Uzma
Publication:Pakistan Journal of Clinical Psychology
Article Type:Clinical report
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Dec 31, 2011
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