New research published this week finds associations between parental depression, maternal use of antidepressants during pregnancy, and autism spectrum disorders in offspring. The Swedish study utilized a population based, case-control method testing both the affects of antidepressants and depression itself on the risk of ASD. Researchers found that a history of maternal depression increases risk of ASD in offspring, but paternal depression is not significantly associated. Use of antidepressants was found to increase risk as well, but the relationship explains less than 1% of autism cases and may be more contingent on depression than medication. While the study reveals modest risk indicators, it does provide two helpful paths for future research. Firstly, the distinction between paternal and maternal depression as indicators for ASD in offspring suggests that the association between parental depression and ASD is a physiological repercussion as opposed to a genetic disposition. Recent trends in research are targeting the affects of stress and inflammation during pregnancy on development. While it seems logical that a drug intended to alter the psychological functioning of a mother would subsequently affect the neurological development of a child in womb, the evidence suggests that the depression itself could be causing physiological changes. If this is the case, then antidepressants may ultimately be more beneficial in counteracting the subsequent effects of stress than harmful in introducing foreign chemicals. Secondly, the associations between depression and ASD were primarily found without intellectual disability, suggesting different causes for autism with and without intellectual disability. To read the whole study, click here. Share your opinion on options and resources for mothers with depression here.
“Parental Depression, Maternal Antidepressant Use during Pregnancy, and Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders: Population Based Case-control Study.” Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. <http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.f2059>.