When Depressed Parents Are Treated Successfully Their Kids Improve Too
As a follow-up to my blog post on DNA, destiny, and depression, I wanted to remind readers that there is good evidence that when parents get treated for depression, their kids improve as well.
One study published last year (which I flagged in my year end review of influential studies of 2011) provides a great example and bears repeating. Researchers studied parents (dads as well as moms) who sought out treatment for depression (whether it was drug therapy, psychotherapy, or a combination) and their kids (most of whom were in middle childhood) 6 times over a 2-year period. When parents were depressed, their kids tended to have high levels of symptoms as well. When parents got better, their kids depressive symptoms were reduced as well. And the big thing is that this happened in parallel – with the good news being that kids’ symptoms improved pretty quickly in concert with parental improvement. Keep in mind that it didn’t matter what treatment was used – just that it was effective.
Another project has looked at kids’ functioning for a 1-year period after a mother started treatment for depression. Over this period, kids’ symptoms decreased and their overall behavior improved when the treatment for depression was successful – particularly if the mom responded quickly to treatment. In contrast, if the mom did not respond to treatment, kids’ behavior not only didn’t improve, but in fact became more problematic.
So the big take-home message is that treating parental depression successfully makes a big difference for their kids as well. The more subtle point is that parents need to find a treatment that really works well for them. For some, it’s drug therapy; for others, psychotherapy works best; and for others a combination is optimal. I know it’s hard (by definition) to maintain hope, energy and motivation when you are depressed – but if you are, please know that once you find the right treatment it will benefit you and your kids.