Maternal depression is a risk factor for adolescent depression; however, the effect of childhood exposure to maternal depression on adolescent engagement in health risk behaviors (eg, substance use, delinquency) is unclear.


We examined the relationship between maternal depressive symptoms (child’s age 4–15) and engagement in health risk behaviors at age 16 to 17 by using data from 2910 mother–youth pairs in a nationally representative prospective Canadian cohort. Maternal depressive trajectories were estimated through finite mixture modeling, and multiple regression analyses examined the relationship between maternal depressive symptoms and engagement in various health risk behaviors (linear regression) and age of debut of various behaviors (Cox regression).


Five trajectories of maternal depressive symptoms were found: recurrent maternal symptoms, midchildhood exposure to maternal symptoms, adolescent exposure to maternal symptoms, mild maternal symptoms, and low symptoms. Adolescents exposed to maternal depressive symptoms during middle childhood were more likely to use common substances (alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana), engage in violent and nonviolent delinquent behavior, and have an earlier debut ages of cigarette, alcohol, marijuana, and hallucinogen use.


The results of this study suggest that exposure to maternal depressive symptoms, particularly in middle childhood, is associated with greater and earlier engagement in health risk behaviors.

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