Evolving Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms in Children Born Very Preterm: Brain, Stress Regulation and Parenting
Anxiety and depressive symptoms are the most common mental health problem in children born very preterm (24 – 32 weeks gestation). Our previous work found pain-related stress of frequent daily procedures during hospitalization across a period of rapid brain development and programming of stress hormone (cortisol) expression to be associated with later anxiety/depressive symptoms. Longitudinal studies examining how this vulnerability develops across early childhood in this population are scant. In an internationally unique longitudinal cohort of children born very preterm, I will examine whether early pain-related stress and neonatal brain development interact with levels of cortisol across childhood, altering trajectories of anxiety and depressive symptoms, at ages 1.5, 3 and 4.5 years, differentially for boys and girls. Moreover, I will identify specific parent interactions that may reduce anxiety/depressive symptoms across development. By identifying parent interactions that improve child outcomes at multiple levels (brain, stress and behavior), my research will lead to development of inexpensive, practical ways for parents to help their children, benefitting families in B.C. and beyond.