Posts Tagged ‘ children of depressed moms ’

When Depressed Parents Are Treated Successfully Their Kids Improve Too

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

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.

Image of happy mom and daughter via

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When Moms Get Depressed, Part Three: Treating Mom Helps Her Children

Monday, June 20th, 2011

CD cover.jpegMy last two posts discussed recent studies that indicate how maternal depression can have a direct environmental effect on children. Today, I focus on the flip side: if moms get treatment that reduces their depression, there is good evidence that there are immediate benefits for their children.

Dr. Judy Garber and colleagues have added to this literature in a recent paper published in Child Development. They tracked parents (over 70% were moms) who were in treatment for depression along with their children (between 7 and 17 years of age) multiple times over a two-year period. The key take-home messages for parents were:

  • reductions in parent depression were associated with immediate reductions in children’s depressive symptoms
  • children of treated parents also showed improvements in social and academic functioning
  • part of the improvement was due to parents becoming more accepting (and less critical) of their children

This study did not focus on a particular type of treatment for depression — treatment included drugs, therapy, and combinations. The key thing is that a mom finds a treatment that works for her – getting treatment only has a positive impact on children if the level of depression is lowered. In addition, anyone who has suffered from depression (or knows someone who has) understands that depression is episodic, so being vigilant about the recurrence of symptoms (and getting a head start on treatment) is also really important for moms.

As many moms indicated in multiple eloquent comments in response to my last post (see the Parents magazine facebook page to read these), fighting depression is not easy, and can be even tougher if you have children. The good news is that the courage and strength shown by depressed moms, and their attempts to help themselves by getting treatment, can directly and immediately also make life better for their children.

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When Moms Get Depressed, Part Two: The Environmental Influence on Kids

Friday, June 17th, 2011

JAACAP.jpegIn my last post, I discussed a recent study that provided new evidence on how kids with depressed moms are at risk for depression. Another study (from the same issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) has provided novel evidence that some of this risk is environmental. First I’ll explain what they found — and then discuss why it’s important.

The researchers examined families in which children were conceived by assisted reproduction. In some families, the mom was biologically related to her child; in others, she wasn’t. From the scientific perspective, this is a modern twist on the adoption study method. The study could then look at the links between maternal depression and symptoms of depression in their kids when there was — and wasn’t — a genetic relationship between them.

They found significant associations between moms’ levels of depressive symptoms and those in their children, both in childhood and in early adolescence. These associations were not influenced by the genetic relationship — they were similar whether or not the mom was the biological mom. The conclusion is that there is an enviromental effect of being exposed to mom’s depression.

I feel that it is really important to highlight environmental pathways these days. So much of the scientific climate has been directed to genetic effects (on nearly everything). Certainly genes will play a role in determining which children and adolescents go on to suffer from recurrent or severe depression. There is also a long history of interest in “gene-environment” interaction — some youth may be genetically resilient to exposure, whereas others may be highly sensitive to it. All that said, there have been a number of studies over the last two decades that demonstrate purely environmental effects on depressive symptoms in children and young adolescents (I’ve done some of this work myself). And the important thing about that replicated finding is that is suggests there may be immediate ways of changing the environment to improve the emotional well-being of kids who have a depressed mom.

In my next post, I will focus on research that shows what happens to kids when their moms get treated for depression. Teaser: it’s a good thing for them.

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

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

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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