A new study links parental depression with kids performing poorly at school.

By Melissa Willets
March 03, 2016
Credit: Shutterstock

We already know kids of depressed parents are more likely to be depressed themselves; it makes sense given that kids emulate the behavior they see, and because genetics play a big role in mental disorders. But perhaps having a parent who is struggling with depression can have an even more profound effect on children. A new study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry links parental depression with kids performing poorly at school, which can obviously impact them for a lifetime.

Researchers looked at over a million kids born in Sweden over a 10-year period, which turned out to be a pretty impressive sample of 93 percent of all people born between 1984 and 1994. They cross referenced kids' scores from their compulsory school records until age 16 with parents' depression diagnoses from a national health register.

Three percent of moms, and 2.1 percent of dads had some diagnosis of a depressive episode or mood disorder at some point while their child was in school. What researchers found was their kids were more likely to suffer academically as a result. Kids were affected by either parent being depressed, but when moms were depressed, they performed more poorly in school. This was true of both boys and girls, though girls between the ages of 6 and 16 seemed to fare the worst, suggesting they take on the burden of a mentally ill mother's care.

The takeaway here is that as parents, we must seek help for feelings of depression, because clearly we aren't the only members of the family who suffer. In fact, this study suggests depression has as big of an impact on children's school performance as socioeconomic status. The problem is that mental illness still carries such a stigma, whether it's postpartum depression or severe anxiety. And with depression specifically, a person can feel extremely isolated, like no one understands how he or she feels, so talking about it may feel impossible.

But here's hoping reading about this study can give even a few parents the courage to get help, if not for themselves, but for the good of their child's immediate and long-term future.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.