When Moms Get Depressed, Part One: Following Their Children From Infancy To Adolescence

Depression is a common disorder: it’s estimated that one in three individuals will experience clinical depression in their lifetime. It’s even more common in females, who are at twice the risk as males. Putting all this together, it is not uncommon to experience depression when you are a mother.

JAACAP.jpegIf you have been depressed as a mom (or are currently experiencing depression), one of the questions you may have is what effects it will have on your children.

It’s been known for decades that children who have a depressed mom are more likely to suffer depression in the future (typically the first onset is in the teens or early twenties). A new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry offers a detailed look into this by studying the effects of postnatal depression on development from two months of age through the mid-teens (age sixteen). This project used a prospective longitudinal design and studied the families multiple times across a sixteen-year period.

The key finding was that the children who were exposed to postnatal depression in their moms were much more likely to have experienced depression themselves by their mid-teens (this happened to 41.5% ) as compared to the kids whose moms weren’t depressed (the rate for them was 12.5%). A few things to consider:

  • clearly not every child who had a depressed mom experienced depression
  • some kids who did not have a depressed mom did experience depression
  • but the difference between the two likelihoods is large and clinically meaningful

This study offered some insight into the reasons why depression breeds depression. Three factors were important:

  • maternal depression was linked with insecure attachment in infancy
  • children with depressed moms showed lower levels of  resilience in childhood
  • children with depressed moms were exposed to higher levels of marital conflict

It’s important for moms to know that researchers examine these issues in order to guide strategies to help depressed moms and their kids. Scientists try to identify the actual processes that put kids at risk — at different ages — so that we can consider ways to intervene and make life better for moms and their children. For example, it could be that the link between postnatal depression and offspring depression is due to genetic factors (which could have a different set of implications for intervention). The researchers of this study focused on what they believed to be environmental factors that are influential, with the idea being that these could be changed.

In my next two posts this week, I will discuss another recent study which gives support to the “environmental” pathways hypothesis, and then report on a study that shows how treating depressed moms leads to improvements in the children.

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  1. by Tyia

    On June 15, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    I think a lot of moms who are depressed are overworked and overstressed. So “treating” them not as a case study but finding what burdens they put on themselves as well as societal pressures will help decipher what leads so many women into depression during time. Having a strong support structure after the birth of their children I think is key and should be the first priority to preventing post-natal depression in some women. And taking the stigma out of being depressed by shedding light on this would definitely help other moms! Thank you for writing about this.

  2. by Michelle Brown

    On June 17, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    I agree with the extra burden put on the Moms in this day and age. We are not in the June Cleaver era anymore. Not only are Moms suffering, but the entire family as well. I can admit that I was in denial when it came to what I thought I could accomplish once my child came into this world. I thought I would have it all together, and I did for a while. However, it is now taking it’s toll on me and my body. This in turn affects the way I deal with my son, my husband, my patients and everyone around me. It has been a slow process, but I can see my patience is wearing very thin. I don’t feel like I have the energy to devote to my son as much as I would like and I can tell a difference in the way we connect with eachother. In fact, I can see a difference in the way I connect with everyone. It’s like I am home, but the lights aren’t always on. We get so caught up in everything and we have to remember to take time out to think about what is really important. When things are going on around you @ 100mph, it’s hard to do. My Mom stayed home with me for a long time and I remember some of my friends who had Moms that worked. They were always upset at the world and yelling all the time. This was not the case at my house, it was pretty calm. I do not want to becoome the angry Mom, but I can admit it is hard to continue to be everything to everyone and the bitterness, it takes over. It’s difficult to commit to this balancing act when you are dead tired. Oh, and wait, I also have to take care of myself if can find the energy. It truly is a daily struggle for me and I know many women feel the same way. I am all for Mommy’s staying home as much as possible. It certainly benefits everyone involved.

  3. by lisa reynolds

    On July 20, 2011 at 11:09 am

    depression has haunted me for years, and as long as i stayed busy, i really didn’t deal with it. but my kids are grown, they can take care of themselves,and working for the school system i am off for the summer. it’s really hit me hard. i feel lost with nothing to do. my friends say take time for yourself, but i don’t know how, i have little panic attacks every time i try to leave the house. and i HATE this house! i had no say in the purchase of this shack, it’s falling apart around us, and yet i still feel like a prisoner in it. my husband just doesn’t get it, and has no patience with me.i am not cut out to be a housewife. it’s very comforting to know i’m not alone , feeling depressed i mean,i don’t really have anyone i can talk to, and just putting it into words has helped a little, thanks.