Perinatal Psychopathology and Offspring Development
What is pPOD?
pPOD is a group of researchers that work to understand psychological disorders affecting parents, and the effects these can have on the early development of children. There is a particular focus on the perinatal period; the time during pregnancy and in the days and weeks that follow. pPOD is now based between two sites; the Oxford University Department of Psychiatry and the Academic Unit of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Imperial College, London. The team comprises psychologists, psychiatrists and other doctors. It is jointly led by Paul Ramchandani and Susannah Murphy.
What is is all about?
Recent scientific focus on the developmental origins of health and disease has emphasised the important influence of the early environment on children’s subsequent development. These environments include those both before and immediately after birth. Disturbances in these early environments can occur in the context of maternal (and paternal) psychiatric illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
Prenatal and postnatal depression in mothers have been found to be associated with a number of disturbances in children’s development; from the earliest weeks in the womb, right through to adolescence. These effects can include changes in foetal behaviour, a higher incidence of preterm deliveries and low birth weight, a higher incidence of behavioural and emotional problems in childhood, and an increased incidence of anxiety and depression during adolescence.
A number of hypotheses have been proposed to explain these associations. However, these mechanisms are still poorly understood. Early child development is wonderfully complex, and the complicated interplay of the early environment with a child’s genes, including the influence of the early environment on epigenetic changes, is a constant challenge in the field. A number of questions remain unanswered: Why are some children more sensitive to the influence of parental depression and stress than others? Is exposure to some amount of stress before birth necessary for the development of optimal functioning post-birth? What are the mechanisms or processes by which parental depression affects children’s development? What are the most effective ways of offering help to parents experiencing stress and depression?
pPOD seeks to further understanding into the influence of perinatal psychopathology on offspring development by undertaking a number of studies investigating these effects in different parts of the world, including the UK, India and South Africa, with an aim of improving the mental health of parents and children.