The 6 Most Important Child Development Research Studies of 2011

Study: Parents' Depression Corresponds with Children's Depression

Study name: "Remission of depression in parents: links to healthy functioning in their children," Garber et al., 2011, Child Development, Volume 82 (1), p. 226 - 243.

What was found? By conducting six observations across two years of parents (70 percent were moms) in treatment for depression, along with their kids, this study revealed that kids' symptoms of depression mirrored their parents' symptoms closely. These included decreases in symptoms that corresponded to treatment effects, increases in symptoms once treatment effects ended, and lack of improvement in depression if parents didn't respond to treatment.

Why is this study influential? Other studies have shown how treating parental depression leads to improved behavior in their kids. This study, however, demonstrates how episodic and harmful depression is in adults even after successful treatment, and how such recurring depression has an immediate corresponding negative impact on their kids' functioning. Another critical point is that parents need to find treatments that work for them (there are a variety of antidepressants, along with cognitive and behavioral therapies, and some time and effort may be required to find the right mix) because being in treatment is not enough, and treatment effects are not always long-lasting.

What's the take-home message? Depression is a common disorder, especially among women of childbearing and child-rearing age. It also affects men, but at a lower rate. Because kids are extremely sensitive to increases in parental depression, it's important for parents to learn the signs of depression, seek help, find a treatment that works, and be prepared to seek out new (and possibly different) treatment if depression recurs. Expect more studies that focus on treatment strategies for parents and kids at risk for depression and more studies about depressed dads and the effects of their depression on kids.

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