Moms And Depression, Part Three: How Does It Affect Your Kids And How Can Treatment Make Life Better?
Tuesday, December 27th, 2011
My prior two posts have discussed depression in moms, focusing on why it’s so common and who’s at highest risk, and how to recognize the signs of depression. While you should – if necessary – seek out treatment simply for your own health and well-being, as a mom you also want to know how depression affects your kids – and how getting treated may help them as well as you.
I’ve done a number of blog posts on maternal depression over the last six months, including summaries of recent studies that showed how maternal depression affects kids from infancy onward and that part of the risk is due directly to the rearing environment (rather than via genetic mechanisms). I’ve also discussed a key paper by Dr. Judy Garber and colleagues (selected by me as one of the most influential studies of 2011) that provided unparalleled insight into the tight associations between parent and child depression and how successful treatment of parental depression can have immediate positive effects on their kids. Here I’ll discuss a bit more about what might change with successful treatment (please note that I plan future posts on dads and depression).
All of the things that happen when a mom get depressed – increasing sadness, irritability, sleep problems, guilt, hopelessness, indecisiveness – can severely undermine the ability to parent. You can become less patient, less accepting, more angry, and more critical. Please keep in mind that this is not a case of loving a child less or not wanting to be the best parent you can be. It’s the consequence of having a real disorder with significant biological symptoms that can substantially impair your functioning.
That said, one of the important things that changes with successful treatment – as described in the Garber paper – is that parental acceptance increases as depression symptoms go away. Moms become more affectionate, supportive, and caring as the cloud of depression lifts. And these changes were shown to be the primary mechanism that lead to immediate reductions in kids’ depressive symptoms (as well as improvements in their social behavior and academic performance).
So the bottom line is that understanding your risk for depression and being vigilant about the symptoms of depression can help you understand when you might need to seek out treatment. Since different treatments work for different people, it’s critical to stick with the process and find what works. And since depression is a recurring condition – it unfortunately can happen again and again – you will need to maintain your vigilance even after successful treatment. But the good news is that you can find ways to manage it and you and your kids will reap the benefits of treatment.