How Does a Parent’s Depression Affect Children?
A 2009 report by the National Research Council and theInstituteofMedicineestimates that in any given year 7.5 millionU.S.parents are depressed, and at least 15 millionU.S.children live with a parent who has major or severe depression. Mary JaneEngland, MD, who chaired the committee that wrote the report, is president ofRegisCollegeinWeston,Massachusetts, and a past president of the American Psychiatric Association; she believes that these estimates were conservative.
Symptoms of Depression
According to the Mayo Clinic children with depression may express any of the following symptoms:
- Feelings of sadness or unhappiness
- Irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
- Agitation or restlessness
- Irritability or angry outbursts
- Indecisiveness, distractibility and decreased concentration
- Fatigue, tiredness and loss of energy
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Crying spells for no apparent reason
Any of these symptoms can impact children, but when several are present at the same time, a child can react in a variety of ways.
How Parental Depression Affects Children
Parental depression can affect children even before they are born. Depression can interfere with a woman’s ability to care for her self during pregnancy: she may be unable to follow medical recommendations or sleep and eat properly. Of greater concern is that depression can put a person at risk for substance abuse, which harms both the parent and the baby.
One of the most common effects of depression when a child is first born is that depression may interfere with the parent’s ability to bond with the baby. Mothers suffering with depression are less likely to play.
A study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that three-year-olds with depressed mothers are more likely to perform poorly in language skills and school readiness than children with mothers who are not depressed. In addition, these children have trouble regulating their own moods, cooperating with requests and mastering problem-solving skills.
As children with depressed parents enter school, they often act out due to the lack of structure, consistent discipline and social interactions a depressed parent didn’t provide. Children of depressed parents often have low self-esteems associated with the fact that the depressed parent is less likely to motivate them academically help them coordinate social plans.
Children learn from their parents, copy their parents’ behaviors and model their parents’ methods of dealing with life. Therefore, if a child grows up in a household with a depressed parent, there is an increased risk that the child will become depressed or anxious himself. In fact, one of the primary causes of teen depression is a family history of depression.
Help for Depression
How you interact with your child is very important for that child’s growth and development. If depression interferes with your ability to be the type of parent you want to be, seek help. The sooner you can get help, the greater the likelihood that you can recover. Call our toll-free helpline any time; we are available 24 hours a day. We want to help you find the right treatment program to handle your depression and can provide you with options, information and resources. We are here to help.