Nav: Home

Climate change poses greater risk of mental health challenges for children born to depressed mothers

February 06, 2019

New York, February 6, 2019 - Climate change poses an exponentially greater risk for mental health problems in children born to mothers with prenatal depression who also experience natural disaster-related stress. That is the message of a new study of infants born to New York City mothers shortly after Superstorm Sandy.

The study, appearing in today's issue of Infant Mental Health, builds on previous findings that disaster-related prenatal stress can have negative effects on an infant's temperament. In their new work, researchers also found that in the case of mothers who were pregnant during Superstorm Sandy and who were predisposed to depression, the effects on their babies were many times worse.

"Prenatal depression increases the risk for infants to have a difficult temperament, but when we factored in the stress of experiencing an environmental catastrophe, one plus one was not two: It was ten," said the study's lead author Yoko Nomura, a psychology professor with The Graduate Center of The City University of New York and Queens College. Nomura published her study while a faculty fellow at the Advanced Science Research Center at The Graduate Center. "Our research found that, compared to other babies, infants born to women who were prenatally depressed and pregnant during Superstorm Sandy had higher rates of distress and lower rates of pleasure-seeking activities."

The study considered 310 pairs of mothers and children, recruited from clinics that serve patients from around the boroughs of New York City. The researchers assessed the mothers' depression symptoms, and mothers reported their infants' temperament via a questionnaire six months after birth.

Infants of depressed mothers displayed greater distress and fear, less smiling and laughter, and lower soothability and cuddliness compared to infants of mothers with lower scores for depression. The infants of depressed mothers who were pregnant during Sandy displayed even worse temperament.

In a 2018 study by several of the same authors, researchers concluded that a mother's stress impacts her child's temperament during the early years of childhood, and they demonstrated that this was true for children born during or close to the time of Superstorm Sandy.

The researchers posited that epigenetic responses to external stressors may be the cause of the increased incidents and intensity of mental health challenges for these infants.

"The combination of environmental stressors and biology may compromise gene expression and cause an excessive amount of cortisol to be passed from the mother to the fetus, resulting in infants having poorer emotional regulation, shyness and fearfulness," said co-author Jessica Buthmann, a Graduate Center doctoral student (Psychology) and Queens College adjunct professor.

Nomura's team recommends monitoring and screening for at-risk mothers during future environmental events as the rising incidents of environmental disasters are likely to put more mothers and infants at risk for climate change-related mental health problems.

"The take-home point is that we should be mindful to look out for the high-risk mothers, because the long-term consequences for the mental health of their offspring could be eased with proper intervention," Nomura said.
-end-
About The Graduate Center of The City University of New York

The Graduate Center of The City University of New York (CUNY) is a leader in public graduate education devoted to enhancing the public good through pioneering research, serious learning, and reasoned debate. The Graduate Center offers ambitious students more than 40 doctoral and master's programs of the highest caliber, taught by top faculty from throughout CUNY -- the nation's largest public urban university. Through its nearly 40 centers, institutes, and initiatives, including its Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC), The Graduate Center influences public policy and discourse and shapes innovation. The Graduate Center's extensive public programs make it a home for culture and conversation.

The Graduate Center, CUNY

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Climate Change Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...