By: Diana Barnes-Brown for Fibroids1
For anyone who has suffered from depression, it’s clear what a toll this psychological illness takes on one’s ability to lead a normal, fulfilling life. And for those who have loved ones with depression, the toll it takes on family life is also obvious. But now, new research indicates that the children of mothers who let depression go untreated are at higher risk of developing psychological troubles of their own.
| Symptoms and Signs of Depression|
Depressed or sad mood
Lack of energy or motivation
Loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable
Unexplained aches and pains
Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness or guilt
Sleep disturbances – sleeping too much or too little
Confusion and trouble concentrating
Children may also display the following signs and symptoms:
Sudden social trouble or trouble at school
Other noticeable changes in behavior or demeanor
Frequent crying or tantrums
Researchers led by Dr. Myrna M Weissman from Columbia University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute have found that within the first three months of effective depression treatment for mothers, it is less likely that children will suffer psychiatric disorders of their own.
The study appears in the special women’s health themed issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, which appeared in early March.
At the time of the study, it was already well known that parental depression is one of the biggest risk factors for childhood anxiety, disruptive behavioral disorders and depression. Compared to the children of mentally healthy parents, kids of depressed parents are two to three times more likely to develop these problems. Frequently, children’s symptoms begin to show themselves in adolescence and last into adulthood, increasing the likelihood that they will be passed on to future generations.
Long-term risks of growing up with depression, anxiety and disruptive behavioral disorders include social problems and increased risk of physical illness. Depression is thought to have strong roots in genetics, but environmental factors such as chronic neglect or household instability due to a parent’s mental problems may also be to blame.
Weissman and colleagues wanted to know whether treating mothers’ depression using medication is connected to lower incidence of psychological problems in their children. They studied 151 mother-child pairs from 2001 to 2004 and included children between ages 7 and 17.
After three months of treatment, children of mothers whose depression had subsided showed an 11 percent decrease in psychological problems, while those with mothers whose depression had persisted showed an 8 percent increase. For mothers whose depression had subsided, 33 percent of children who had diagnosable psychiatric illness at the beginning of their mother’s depression also experienced relief from their conditions, compared to only 12 percent of children whose mothers had not improved themselves. Finally, for children who had no disorder at the beginning of the study, those with recovered mothers remained free of disorders, while 17 percent of those whose mothers stayed depressed either developed a disorder or relapsed.
“To our knowledge,” wrote the authors, “this is the first published study to document prospectively the relation between remission of a mother’s depression and her child’s clinical state. These findings are intriguing because they suggest that an environmental influence (i.e., the impact of maternal depression remission) had a measurable impact on the child’s psychopathology.” Further, the authors noted that “a reduction in stress associated with maternal remission may reverse the long-standing symptoms in children who are likely to be genetically vulnerable.”