Long before they enter the workforce or begin school, young children begin to acquire social and emotional skills. Infants and toddlers rely on parents or other primary caretakers to provide a safe environment; create positive, new experiences; and guide their emotions. Decades of research on maternal mental health show that maternal depression can impact a mother’s ability to meet these needs.
Maternal depression may pose serious mental health problems for mothers and jeopardize their ability to provide safe, responsive, and nurturing care to their young children. The incidence of maternal depression is high, placing many young children at risk for developing mental health and behavioral problems. This paper discusses the impact of maternal depression on the social and emotional health of young children. It recommends specific steps that early childhood program and public health administrators can take to address the unmet mental health needs of mothers ultimately promoting the social and emotional health, school readiness, and future functioning of very young children.