Posts Tagged ‘ depressed moms ’

Moms And Depression, Part Two: What Signs Should You Look For?

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

In my last post, I provided a brief overview of the many reasons why moms are at risk for depression. It’s thus critical for every mom to be aware of the signs of depression – especially those that may not be as obvious as others. 

A trusted source for information on depression is the National Institute of Mental Health. I recommend having a look at their discussion of women and depression, which includes a list of the basic symptoms, which I quote here:

  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Irritability, restlessness, anxiety
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Insomnia, waking up during the night, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
This list of symptoms may seem straightforward at first glance, but in my experience, it isn’t. So here are the key points I suggest you keep in mind:
  • The vast majority of women show only some of these symptoms – you don’t need to have all of them to be depressed
  • While sadness may be what first comes to mind when you think about depression, note that most of these symptoms are not about sadness per se – and even in terms of sadness, this doesn’t always get expressed as crying (it can be more “quiet” than that, especially in terms of feeling empty inside). It’s important to think about other feelings that you may be experiencing – like guilt and hopelessness – that go beyond sadness
  • There are a number of physical symptoms – irritability, anxiety, restlessness, fatigue, even aches and pains. While these can be caused by a number of things, it’s important to remember that they can be signs of depression, especially if you have other symptoms as well
  • Some of the symptoms can be expressed very differently – sleep problems can involve insomnia OR excessive sleeping, you can experience overeating OR appetite loss. The reason for this is not clear, but be aware that any problem with sleep or eating can be tied to depression. A loss of energy and lack of interest in things that are important to you are also important signals to be aware of – though for some women increasing anxiety may dominate.
  • There are a number of cognitive symptoms. It can be difficult to focus, concentrate, and make decisions. Especially important are changes in these symptoms in conjunction with some of the other symptoms (e.g., being sad and finding you are becoming more indecisive than usual)

In terms of diagnosing depression, a clinician will be looking for a constellation of these symptoms (which as described above can be very different from one woman to the next), along with the duration (for a major depressive episode, the typical benchmark is two weeks of having a number of symptoms most of the time). That said, depressive symptoms can wax and wane, and it’s important to start to recognize some of the signs – especially if it seems like they are increasing – even if you don’t have a full “episode.” So it’s very important to learn these signs, monitor yourself over time, and be aware if some of these symptoms are coming together at the same time. At that point it would be worth discussing with your primary care physician, who ideally would refer you to a mental health specialist for evaluation if necessary. This last step is very important, as depression is treatable using a number of approaches (both talk therapy as well as drug therapy). Most of all, I am a firm believer in trusting your gut instincts. If you don’t feel like yourself, get yourself checked out. Depression is a serious disorder and seeking treatment when necessary often leads to very positive changes in a woman’s life. And in my next post, I will discuss how it can lead to positive changes in your parenting as well.

Click here to read Part One of this series

Image of depressed woman 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 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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