Posts Tagged ‘ psychotherapy ’

Moms, Stress, and Depression

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Moms who have young kids have lots of sources of stress – including unavoidable rites of passage of parenthood (sleep deprivation), everyday hassles (just can’t fit in that shower), and new responsibilities on top of old ones (how exactly do you take care of everything you need to do when you have to take care of a 6-month-old?). There are countless other streams of stress – including big “macro” society conditions like the economic recession – that impinge on everyday life  and influence parenting. Now, you may be thinking – and this is a reaction I frequently encounter – that if stress is inevitable, why bother discussing it? 

Well, there are four reasons.

First, stress takes its toll on moms. One of the strongest predictors of depression is high levels of stress. Given that women in general are at high risk for depression – some studies suggest nearly 1 in 3 women will experience clinical depression – the additional stresses of being a mom can have serious consequences. And keep in mind that one of the reasons that depression can become such a problem is that is a recurrent condition – it tends to come back after it subsides.

Second, children of depressed parents are at very high risk for early-onset depression as well as other behavioral problems. The process can start as early as infancy, accelerate in toddlerhood, and result in increased depressive symptoms in childhood, culminating with onset of clinical depression in the teen years. Chronic stress has other negative effects on childhood development that can lead to increased risk for health problems later in life. And there is some evidence that severe stress during pregnancy can have adverse effects on fetal development and contribute to things like low birth weight.

While stress and depression are insidious and impairing, there is, without question, hope. The third reason to reflect on all this is that depression is treatable. There is no one treatment, so it’s important to give yourself enough time to find the right mix of psychotherapy and/or pharmacology (antidepressants). The reality is that you can get a handle on depression and also lessen the risk of future depressive episodes with effective treatment.

Which leads to a fourth reason to talk about stress and depression – when moms get treated successfully, their kids improve as well. There have been large-scale studies showing that these positive effects can be long lasting, and include reductions in both child symptoms and actual diagnoses of depression and other disorders in the offspring. Other more fine-grained studies have shown how child symptoms of depression “mirror” parental levels – and when parental symptoms lessen with treatment, so do their kids’ symptoms. Note that no intervention needs to be done directly with the kids to gain a benefit – the effect comes simply from successfully treating the parent.

So, moms who are under lots of stress and feel like they are depressed should become aware of the symptoms of depression - and seek out well-qualified treatment. Doing this not only helps moms, but directly improves the lives of their kids.

Depressed Woman via Shutterstock.com

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