University of Rochester

Mt. Hope Family Center Receives $3.8 Million Grant to Study Effect of Therapies with Depressed Mothers on Infant Development

February 12, 2004

Researchers at Mt. Hope Family Center of the University of Rochester have been awarded a $3.8 million federal grant to conduct an extensive five-year evaluation of how two different interventions or therapies can help clinically depressed, low-income mothers and the development of their infant children.

"Depression in parents is a significant public health problem," says Dante Cicchetti, principal investigator on the National Institute of Mental Health grant and Mt. Hope Family Center director. "Although treatment for depression is widely available, too few parents receive intervention for their depression, especially among impoverished populations. This is especially devastating given the negative consequences of depression for the health and welfare of both parent and child."

Cicchetti, who is professor of psychology, psychiatry, and pediatrics at the University of Rochester, will work with Sheree L. Toth, Mt. Hope associate director, and psychologist Fred Rogosch.

The grant will give psychologists the opportunity to closely examine two different therapies for those women and their babies. One would provide infant-parent psychotherapy, which is based on an attachment-theory informed model provided earlier at Mt. Hope, and the other is interpersonal psychotherapy. Infant-parent psychotherapy was previously shown to be effective in fostering positive mother-child relationships and cognitive development in the offspring of depressed mothers from middle-income backgrounds. That intervention, however, did not decrease depression in mothers.

With the new funding, both therapies will be combined to ascertain whether treating maternal depression without providing intervention to the pair will promote positive child development.

"Importantly, by providing a preventive intervention during the early years of a child's life, significant long-term savings, both with respect to human suffering and dollars expended by society will be realized," Cicchetti points out.

Depression has been referred to as the most significant mental health risk for women of childbearing age. Women who are less educated and unemployed and who have young children are at a higher risk for depression, with prevalence rates reported as high as 80 percent. Depression in low-income caregivers, such as those receiving services at Mt. Hope Family Center, places children at even higher risk for maladaptive development as these youngsters struggle with living in poverty as well as with having a parent with a mental illness.

Although ethnic minority women experience rates of depression comparable to those of Caucasian women, depression in minority women is more likely to go unrecognized and untreated by professionals.

Founded in 1979, Mt. Hope Family Center conducts research in the area of developmental psychopathology and provides intervention directed toward fostering mental health in children and adults, preventing child abuse and neglect, and promoting positive relationships between parents and their children. Located in the Corn Hill neighborhood of Rochester, the center is affiliated with the University of Rochester's Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology.