FRIDAY, Feb. 16, 2024 (HealthDay News) —When grandparents can lend a hand with little ones, moms are less likely to battle depression.

And, in turn, they are less likely to take antidepressants, Finnish researchers report in the Feb. 15 issue of the journal Population Studies.

Based on a study that tracked 488,000 mothers of young children in Finland, use of antidepressants was highest in moms whose parents and in-laws lived far away or were old and ailing.

“Previous studies have consistently shown that younger grandparents in good health are more likely to provide support and childcare,” said study co-author Niina Metsä-Simola, a researcher at the University of Helsinki. 

“Having an old and frail grandparent may even place an additional burden on mothers as they cannot expect to receive support from such grandparents, but instead need to continue providing support upwards,” she added in a news release from the journal’s publisher.

The depression effect was strongest in women who separated from their partners during the 2000-2014 study period. 

Metsä-Simola said that made sense, because these women often have custody of their child and may need relatives’ help. 

“Mothers in such a situation may need to take on additional work, affecting their need for childcare, and may even need to move home,” she said, adding that parents of young children, especially those entering single parenthood, may be especially likely to take a mental health hit.

Metsä-Simola said said this might explain why the study found grandparents’ support was “particularly relevant” for separating mothers’ mental health.

Finland and other Scandanivian countries provide mothers universal access to health and social services, as well as affordable child care and education. Low-cost housing with care is provided for older folks.

Despite these generous policies, researchers still found a link between grandparents’ proximity, age and health and mothers’ use of antidepressants. 

“Our study suggests that support exchanges across generations matter for mothers’ mental health, even in the context of a Nordic welfare state where all parents — including single parents — benefit from generous institutional support,” Metsä-Simola said.

Researchers pointed out that they lacked any direct measure of intergenerational support, so they were unable to see how often grandparents actually provided childcare or were involved.

Researchers suggested future studies investigate the role of parents’ and in-laws’ support on depression in childless women.

More information

Families for Depression Awareness has a self-test for stress.

SOURCE: Taylor & Francis Group, news release, Feb. 15, 2024