We explored health literacy in parents as an underlying construct that develops through social interaction and reflection and involves an array of skills that enable a parent to manage personal and child health and healthcare. We hypothesized that depression impairs health literacy and impedes efforts to promote health literacy through home visitation. We analyzed an AHRQ/NIH database of 2,572 parent/child dyads compiled in a 2006–2008 quasi-experimental six-site nationwide study using multiple waves of measurement and a matched comparison group. Cohort families participated in home visitation programs augmented to develop parents’ reflective skills. Visitors monitored depression, health- and healthcare-related practices, and surrounding family conditions at baseline and 6-month intervals for up to 36 months using the Life Skills Progression instrument. We examined differences in initial depression ratings for demographic subgroups and explored patterns of change in health literacy among depressed versus not-depressed parents. Correlation analysis showed that at each of four assessments better depression scores were consistently and positively correlated with use of information and services (r = 21–22, P < .001) and with self-management of personal and child health (r = 42–49, P < .001). Overall, parents made significant improvements in health literacy (P < .001). As expected, depressed parents demonstrated lower baseline health literacy scores than not-depressed parents; however, they achieved greater gains (P < .001). While depression is linked with lower parental health literacy, after 1 year of enhanced home visitation, vulnerable parents were better able to manage personal and family health and healthcare, especially if depressed. Enhanced home visitation could be an effective channel to develop health literacy as a life skill, and to improve depression.
Keywords: Health literacy, Depression, Community health services, Home visitation