High Risk for Anxiety, Depression, and Stress Observed Among Single Mothers

sleepy daughter in mothers arms
sleepy daughter in mothers arms
This research promotes the use of more rigorous screening efforts for mental illness among single mothers.

Single mothers reported higher rates of depression and anxiety symptoms compared with partnered mothers, according to study data published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Investigators abstracted data from the 2015 German National Psychosocial Burdens Prevalence Study in Early Childhood. The German study was a large, cross-sectional study of nationally representative data on various psychosocial risks among families with children aged 0 to 3 years. Per the study protocol, participating pediatricians (n=271) each recruited and administered questionnaires to up to 35 parents at their practices. The questionnaire captured depressive and anxiety symptoms per the 4-item Patient Health Questionnaire. General stress and parenting-related stress were assessed using the Perceived Stress Scale and the Parenting Stress Index, respectively.

A total of 6925 mothers with children younger than 3 years were identified, among whom 7.5% (n=517) were single mothers and 92.5% (n=6408) were partnered mothers. The mean age of participating mothers was 31.6 (standard deviation, 5.1) years. Approximately 30% of single mothers reported symptoms of depression or anxiety compared with just 14% of partnered mothers (P <.0001). In addition, a greater proportion of single mothers reported high general stress (37%) and high parenting stress (26%) compared with partnered mothers (18% and 16%, respectively; P <.0001). The adjusted model confirmed an increased risk for depression and anxiety among single mothers (odds ratio [OR], 1.9; 95% CI, 1.4-2.5). In the adjusted model, single mothers were also at an increased risk for general life stress (OR, 2.1; 95% CI, 1.6-2.8) and parenting stress (OR, 1.5; 95% CI, 1.1-2.1). Many psychosocial factors had a strong influence on these risks, including welfare receipt, lack of perceived social support, and a history of childhood maltreatment or physical domestic violence. Single mothers were much more likely to report these factors (all P <.001) compared with partnered mothers.

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These data highlight a significant burden for mental illness among single mothers. Adjusted analyses suggest a substantial mediating effect of financial hardship, lack of perceived social support, and any history of maltreatment. Such data promote the use of more rigorous screening efforts for mental illness among single mothers, particularly those in high-risk demographics.


Liang LA, Berger U, Brand C. Psychosocial factors associated with symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress among single mothers with young children: a population-based study [published online August 8, 2018]. J Affect Disord. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.08.013