Parenting and Depressive Symptoms for Reentering Mothers

I’ve had to turn off my emotional button about this stuff because right now I’d probably be crying.

Depression and Parenting During Reentry

Reported rates of depression experienced by women released from the corrections system are highly variable in the literature but consistently indicate a much higher prevalence than men and women in the general population, as well as higher than corrections-involved men (Freudenberg et al. 2005; James and Glaze 2006; Shuford et al. 2018). Other mental health concerns are also more prevalent among corrections-involved women, including anxiety, self-injurious behavior, and trauma-related diagnoses such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Cabeldue, Blackburn, and Mullings 2019). These mental health statuses are also stronger predictors of women’s recidivism than men’s (Belknap and Holsinger 2006; Benda 2005; Bloom, Owen, and Covington 2003; Van Voorhis et al. 2010).

While these gender disparities are not well understood, Pearlin’s stress process model demonstrates theoretical linkages between stress experiences and mental health outcomes, including depression. Being in a parenting role, regardless of involvement in the corrections system, appears to predict higher levels of depressive symptoms. Based on a general sample of parents, Pearlin’s stress process model (Aneshensel 1992; Pearlin et al. 1981) suggests that the increased stress of demands associated with parenthood (i.e., housework and child care) leads to higher experiences of psychological distress. When parenting is coupled with a lack of resources to meet the increased demands, further distress is experienced, and subsequently, adverse mental health outcomes such as symptoms of depression (Nomaguchi and Milkie 2003).

Women leaving the corrections system, in addition to experiencing high levels of mental health challenges, are most often single and lack resources that ease the burdens of parenting such as access to child care, parenting skills, logistical support such as transportation to school, and social support to help cope with the struggles of parenthood. Based on the Pearlin model (1981), these increased stressors are therefore likely to increase depression symptoms for this population.

Following corrections involvement, mothers might (1) resume living with children immediately; (2) experience a delay in living with children as they work to get outstanding concerns addressed (but some may visit children); or (3) not expect to ever live with children again (but some may visit children). Our sample comprises mothers who fit in all of these scenarios and allows us to compare outcomes and the experiences of depression symptoms among mothers who are actively parenting (living with children) and those who do not currently have parenting responsibilities. Pearlin’s model (1981) suggests that depression symptoms may differ for actively parenting mothers compared to mothers who do not have custody of their children, and this chapter explores this relationship further. Exploring how depression symptoms are affected by having custody of children broadens the understanding of the reentry process for mothers. Parenting may, for example, promote protective social bonds as posited by Sampson and Laub (1995, 2003) that may buffer some of the stressors associated with reentry. To the extent that it increases exposure to stressors, however, resuming a parenting role may alternatively increase depression symptoms of mothers.

This chapter considers the interplay of motherhood and trajectories of depression symptoms following incarceration and during the community reentry process. Comparing mothers who had custody of (defined as living with) their children to those without, we seek to understand whether custody status affects depression experiences for women recently released from incarceration.

Beck Depression Inventory

We begin our investigation of maternal depression by employing the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). The BDI is a widely used and validated screening instrument to detect depression (Beck, Steer, and Carbin 1988). The BDI has 21 items and consists of a series of ordered statements in relation to particular symptoms of depression such as pessimism, past failure, loss of pleasure, and self-dislike (Beck, Steer, and Brown 1996) with a higher score indicating endorsement of more depression symptoms. All respondents completed the BDI in each of the three waves of interviews, allowing us to consider how these self-reports of the frequency of depression symptoms differ between parenting and non-parenting mothers, along with how these scores change over time. While our analysis does not capture a threshold that might reflect clinically significant levels of depression, measuring depression as a continuous variable instead of a discrete one has the advantage of increased precision and “allows for the full representation of the individual variation in depression” (Hankin et al. 2005: 108; Mirowsky and Ross 2002).

Table 4.1 BDI Scores and Custody Status

All participants N = 39

SD

Mean Wave 1 BDI score (range = 1-43)

14.8

8.6

Mean Wave 2 BDI score (range = 0-31)

12.8

8.7

Mean Wave 3 BDI score (range = 1-40)

13.2

9.4

Participants who completed BDI at all the three waves N = 21

Mean Wave 1 BDI score (range = 2-43)

16.1

9.8

Mean Wave 2 BDI score (range = 2-31)

12.7

8.8

Mean Wave 3 BDI score (range = 1-40)

13.2

9.4

Lived with children (at all) between the Wave 1 and Wave 2 interviews

57.7%

Lived with children (at all) between the Wave 2 and Wave 3 interviews

71.4%

The average BDI scores of (1) all mothers who completed the BDIs at any wave and (2) mothers who completed all the three waves of interviews are represented in Table 4.1. In this table, we show that the average BDI score was highest in Wave 1 and lowest in the Wave 2 interview. This is true both for the entire sample, and when the sample is restricted to those who were present for all three interview waves. We also see in this table the key focus for this chapter: Whether the mother lived with any children in the period between interviews. About 58% of mothers lived with at least one child between the Wave 1 and Wave 2 interviews. This increased to 71% living with a child (for any period of time) between the Wave 2 and Wave 3 interviews.

We next seek to understand whether depression symptoms, and their trajectories over time, differed for mothers who lived with their children post-incarceration compared to those who did not. As we show next, in three different ways, we find that mothers who lived with their children between the Wave 1 and Wave 2 interviews reported more overall depression symptoms than mothers who did not live with their children in the 12 months prior to the Wave 2 interview, suggesting that having custody of children may impact the mental health of mothers during this transition period.

We compare BDI scores at each of the three waves for mothers who did and did not live with their children in Table 4.2. If mothers lived with any of their children at Wave 1, they were considered to have custody for purposes of this Table. At Wave 1, we find that mothers with custody report mean BDIs of 12.9, whereas mothers without custody had higher BDIs: 17.6. For the Wave 2 and 3 interviews, mothers were counted as living with their children if they did so at any time in the previous 12 months as of the interview date. By the Wave 2 interview, we see a fairly dramatic swap in which group has higher BDI scores: Mothers who did not live with their children in the last 12 months (as of the Wave 2 interview) reported an average BDI score of 9.6,

Table 4.2 Comparison of Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) Scores for Mothers, by Whether They Lived With Their Children in the Past 12 Months, All Three Waves

N

Mothers, Did Not Live with Children at Wave 1

Mothers, Lived with

Children in Wave 1

t-Value

P

Average BDI score at the Wave 1 interview

39

17.6 (2.5)

12.9 (1.5)

1.67

.051

Mothers, did not

Mothers, lived

live with children

with children in

in last 12 months

last 12 months

Average BDI score at the Wave 2 interview

30

9.6 (2.5)

15.3 (1.9)

1.78

.443

Average BDI score at the Wave 3 interview

20

14.4 (3.5)

13.7 (2.6)

-.017

.564

whereas those who lived at least 1 month with their child(ren) in the past 12 months reported an average BDI score of 15.3. By the Wave 3 interview, the BDIs are more comparable for both the groups of mothers: 14.4 for those without custody and 13.7 for those with custody. Given that higher levels of BDI scores indicate higher levels of depression symptoms, this suggests that corrections-involved mothers who live with their children immediately following incarceration (in Wave 1) have lower rates of reported depression symptoms than those mothers who did not initially live with their children. Over time, however, our evidence suggests increased depression among these custodial mothers relative to those without custody by the Wave 2 interview. However, these scores even out once the initial transition period ends (in Wave 3, or the end of our study period).

As Table 4.2 presents averages for everyone who completed the BDI in each wave, it fails to consider whether individuals showed improvement over time in depression symptoms, and if so, which individuals were likely to improve. To highlight within-person changes over time in depression symptoms, in Table 4.3 we focus on whether an individual’s number of reported symptoms of depression improved from interview to interview. Overall, for the entire sample (not shown), 53.3% of mothers reported an improvement, or a decreased score, in their reported depression symptoms between the Wave 1 and Wave 2 interviews, and 47.6% between the Wave 2 and 3 interviews, suggesting that for about half of the women reentering the community, depression symptoms improved over time. Table 4.3 shows the changes in BDI scores between the Wave 1 and Wave 2 interviews and between the Wave 2 and Wave 3 interviews, comparing women who lived with their children for at least 1 month out of the past 12 to women who did not live with their children at all in the previous 12 months. Mothers who did not live with their children were more likely than those who did to show an improvement in BDI scores between the Wave 1 and 2 interviews. Among

Table 4.3 Change in Depression (BDI) Symptoms, Wave I to Wave 2 Interviews, and Wave 2 to Wave 3 Interviews, by Whether Respondent Lived With Children Prior to Follow-up Interview

N

Did Not Live with Kids between Wave 1 and Wave 2

Lived with Kids between Wave 1 and Wave 2

Depression did not improve

30

38.5%

47.1%

Depression improved

61.5%

52.9%

N

Did not live with kids between the Wave 2 and Wave 3 interviews

Lived with kids between the Wave 2 and Wave 3 interviews

Depression did not improve

20

60.0%

50.0%

Depression improved

40.0%

50.0%

mothers who lived with their children prior to the Wave 2 interview, 52.9% had a reduction in the amount of reported depression symptoms compared to their Wave 1 reports. In comparison, 61.5% of mothers who did not live with their children indicated improvement in their BDI scores (indicating reduced symptoms of depression). This pattern is less pronounced between the Wave 2 and 3 interviews, and may even be reversed (with 40% of noncustodial mothers but 50% of custodial mothers improving), suggesting that the higher rate of improvement for noncustodial mothers may be especially true during the early transition period following release from jail or prison.

To understand if the amount of time mothers lived with their children in the previous 12 months affected their depression symptom scores, we calculated a correlation coefficient between the number of months (out of a possible 12) living with their child(ren) in the previous year and the BDI score at the Wave 2 and Wave 3 interviews. The resulting correlation coefficient between the BDI and months living with a child is .345 in Wave 2, a positive, moderate-size correlation, indicating that the more time mothers lived with their children during this period, the higher their average BDI scores. Therefore, not only does living with children result in higher amounts of reported symptoms of depression in the Wave 2 interview, the more time spent living with children, the more depression symptoms are reported by those mothers. Like the other methods of measuring this relationship outlined in this chapter, this trend reverses between the Wave 2 and 3 interviews. In Wave 3, the number of months (out of the previous 12) that mothers lived with their children has a weak negative correlation with BDI scores (—.256) meaning that more months living with children between the Wave 2 and 3 interviews decreased reported depression symptoms in Wave 3.

 
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