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The Impact of Parent Depression in Children

October 26, 2012

            Depression, regardless of the cause, is something that is extremely prevalent among people in the United States. As mentioned in class, approximately fifty percent of people will experience symptoms of depression within their lifetime. With this known fact, it is vastly important to look at how depression in parents affects the family and specifically the children. In an article titled Parents’ Depression Linked to Problems in Children by Perri Klass, depression in parents is examined as well as how primary care doctors may identify risks of postpartum depression in women.

            It has been found that examining a parent’s mental health in the first couple months of a baby’s life is of great importance due to the fact that parent’s depression can be severely detrimental to not only the baby but also older children in the family. Depression seems to be a very “contagious” illness and can severely impact people who live in close quarters such as family and possibly friends. Not only can a parent’s depressed mood affect her children, but also it can also severely impact the way they take care of them on a day-to-day basis. 

            The frustrating part about this is that depression can be very easily treated but often time’s people do not seek the care or treatment that they need. Untreated depression in parents can affect children in a way that it leads to poor performance in school, higher visits to the emergency room, as well as less than ideal relationships with peers. Most severely, depression among parents can actually lead to depression symptoms in their children. The good news is that when parents seek help and treatment, their family seems to do a lot better overall.

            One reason why parents usually don’t seek treatment is because the physician may not be trained well enough to notice or may be afraid of stigmatizing the parent. All of the adverse reactions that children have to their parent’s depression as mentioned above, supports the fact that it is crucial for doctors to pay attention to depressive symptoms without discrediting the parent. In fact, it has been found that women actually like being asked because it raises opportunity to talk about the depression for what may be the first time. Klass explains that urging the parent to “get better for their children” is usually the best way to get them help. It is important to keep in mind, though, that asking about depression can also create more problems if there is a lack of help due to the financial or social situation they are living in. It can also make the parent feel as if the doctor is blaming them for something wrong in the child. With that being said, it is important to approach the issue of depression in parents with a non-stigmatizing and open view of what is going on in the their life.

Melissa Peterson

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2012 3:41 am

    This is really interesting because I work in an autism program every summer where we focus on children ages 5 to 12. Out of the 30 children we have roughly 30% of the parents have stated that they have been on depression medicine during the child’s life. I never put two and two together until taking this class but of the kids that had parents who reported being depressed, the majority of those children were the most difficult to handle. Many I would have described as defiant and not due to their autism. Children feed off their parents. The environment a child grows up in contributes extensively to the child’s behavior. The autistic children whom I found the most difficult to work with were all children who’s parents had claimed to be depressed at least once during the child’s life. I question if the parents were depressed due to their child’s autism or if the severity of the autism was due to the parents depression.

    -Kimberly Langley

  2. October 29, 2012 6:57 pm

    Kimberly — I hear you, and it’s a valid question (whether parents are depressed due to a kid’s autism, or whether parents’ depression makes a kid’s autism worse). Of course, to test this, you’d need to have baseline depression scores from parents BEFORE they had their autistic child. Since nobody knows, ahead of time, if they’re going to have a child with a disability, this kind of data is, well, non-existent. It IS well-documented that parenting a child with a disability to stressful. I suspect that there is a feedback loop and that the relationship between parental depression and autism/behavioral severity works both ways. Perhaps those kids who are “easier” also come from families that have more support? *That* is a question that could quite easily be tested. It would be logical that parents would be less depressed with more support, and that kids would probably be better behaved, too. (The apparent relationship between parents’ depression and kids’ behavior might, in fact, be explained by a third variable.) Remember the concept of “spuriousness” from methodology class! I always worry, a bit, that parents end up getting blamed for everything…

    Prof Replogle

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