How is hair cortisol related to mother's mental health and wellbeing over time?
Women in their first years after giving birth are at greater risk of poor mental health. This is particularly the case for women who are also experiencing social adversity, such as low socioeconomic status, single parenthood, and low educational attainment. The biological stress response system is one proposed pathway by which adversity leads to poorer mental health. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, and its production of the hormone cortisol are thought to play a pivotal role in this process. Short-term changes in cortisol production have been associated with mental health diagnoses of anxiety and depression. However, little is known about long term patterns of cortisol production and the associated mental health outcomes.
Measuring cortisol concentrations in hair is a relatively new method which offers the potential for examining these patterns over time. The right@home trial recruited a large cohort of Australian women for their experience of adversity in pregnancy and conducts detailed assessments with women and their subsequent children until children start school. Within this trial, there is an exciting opportunity for an Honours student to examine patterns of hair cortisol concentrations in mothers when their children are 1, 2 and 3 years old, and women’s subsequent mental health at child age 3 years. The findings of this study will help to understand the role of the physiological stress response in mental health and contribute to the relatively new body of literature examining the use of hair cortisol in large population health trials.
This research project is available to Masters by Research, Honours students to join as part of their thesis.
Please contact the Research Group Leader to discuss your options.
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Royal Children’s Hospital/Murdoch Childrens Research Institute
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