Surviving social assistance: 12-month prevalence of depression in sole-support parents receiving social assistance

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Although it is generally recognized that poverty and depression can coexist among single parents receiving social assistance, there is insufficient research on this topic. The goals of this study therefore were to investigate the prevalence, correlates and health care expenditures associated with depression among sole-support parents receiving social assistance.


Sole-support parents who had applied for social assistance in 2 regions of southwestern Ontario were included in the study. Depression was diagnosed with the 1994 University of Michigan Composite International Diagnostic Interview short forms.


The 12-month prevalence rate of depressive disorder among the parents interviewed was 45.4% (345/760). A total of 247 (32.5%) had major depressive disorder alone, 19 (2.5%) had dysthymia, and 79 (10.4%) had both major depressive disorder and dysthymia ("double depression"). Those with major depressive disorder, particularly double depression, had significantly higher rates of coexisting psychiatric disorder than those without depressive disorders. Parents with depression reported higher rates of developmental delay and behaviour problems in their children than parents without depression. Expenditures for health care services were higher for parents with depression and for their children than for parents without depressive disorder and their children.


Single parents receiving social assistance have high rates of depression. Such parents with depression also have higher rates of other psychiatric disorders and higher expenditures for health care services, and their children have higher rates of developmental delay and behaviour problems.

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