Open Access Research article

Trajectories of maternal symptoms of anxiety and depression. A 13-year longitudinal study of a population-based sample

Anni Skipstein1*, Harald Janson2, Mike Stoolmiller3 and Kristin S Mathiesen1

Author Affiliations

1 Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Division of Mental Health, PO Box 4404 Nydalen, 0403 Oslo, Norway

2 The Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development, PO Box 7053 Majorstuen, 0306 Oslo, Norway

3 Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Oregon, College of Education, Eugene, OR, 97403, USA

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:589  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-589

Published: 6 October 2010



There is a lack of population-based studies of developmental trajectories following mothers throughout the whole child-rearing phase and there are few longitudinal studies focusing on both symptoms of depression and anxiety. The aim of the current study is to identify latent trajectory groups based on counts of symptoms of anxiety and depression among mothers throughout the child-rearing phase and the relations of the latent groups to maternal socio-demographic variables.


Data is from a prospective, longitudinal study of nearly 1000 families in Norway followed from when the index children were 18 months until they were 14.5 years old (the TOPP study). The study used latent profile analysis (LPA) to identify latent groups of mothers with distinct trajectories across time of symptom counts. Latent group differences on socio-demographic variables were tested with one-way ANOVAs, chi-square tests and exact tests.


Six trajectories based on maternal scores from six waves of data collection of symptoms of anxiety and depression were identified; a 'No symptoms' group with mothers without symptoms; a 'Low' group with mothers reporting low symptom levels; a 'Moderate-low' group with mothers reporting moderately low symptom levels; a 'Moderate' group with mothers with moderate symptoms; a 'High-chronic' group with mothers with overall high symptom levels; and a 'Low-rising' group with mothers starting with a low symptom level that increased over time. The mothers in the High-chronic symptom group differed from the other mothers on several socio-demographic variables. They were significantly younger than the mothers in the Low group comprising the oldest mothers. The mothers in the High-chronic group had significantly lower education, were less likely to have paid work and were less likely to be living with a partner than the mothers in the other groups.


The study shows socio-demographic differences between mothers classified into six trajectory groups based on symptoms of anxiety and depression covering 13 years of the child-rearing period. Specific socio-demographic risk factors characterised mothers in the High-chronic symptom group. Identifying subgroups with enduring problems might inform more targeted preventive efforts.