Background Maternal depression affects between 10% and 15% of US mothers. Emerging evidence suggests that variability in symptoms is linked to different risk factors and different pathological subtypes. Building on this research, this study examines manifestations of depression symptoms and risk factors associated with different manifestations among a socioeconomically heterogeneous sample of African American mothers.
Methods Data were collected via telephone interviews with a community sample of 208 self-identified African American women with children 2 to 18 months old. Mothers were screened for depression symptoms using the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression scale and reported on several psychosocial factors including social support, history of depression, and demographic characteristics. Cluster analysis was used to determine whether there were distinct subtypes of depression symptoms in this sample.
Results A k-means cluster analysis of the 57 women with a positive depression symptom screen revealed 2 distinct groups characterized by higher versus lower symptom severity. A logistic regression indicated that mothers were more likely to fall into the high severity cluster if they were employed and reported lower levels of social support.
Limitations Because of its cross-sectional design, this study could not explore the timing and the course of depression symptoms, which may be more closely related to risk and functional impairment than the severity distinction found in this research.
Conclusions Researchers, pediatricians, and obstetricians working with African American mothers should screen for social support, with the understanding that those with low levels may be at increased risk for severe depression symptoms. Finally, the heterogeneity in symptoms suggests that clinicians should be aware of all depression symptoms among their patients rather than looking for specific, potentially stereotypical symptoms as cues.