Parenting Tip of the Week – Learning about Parental Depression

Did you know that 1 in 5 children live with a parent who is depressed? Untreated parental depression can have a negative effect on your child’s development, so today we’re passing along some information and tips on this common mental health issue.

What is Depression?

Depression can be a scary thing to think about. If you think you’re dealing with depression, know that you’re not alone! According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. It is estimated that more than 16 million adults nationwide have experienced depression in the past year.

Symptoms of depression include difficulties regulating mood, increased feelings of exhaustion, and challenges engaging in everyday activities such as working. Depression can even negatively affect your sleep or appetite! This can lead to lower energy levels and difficulty making it through a normal day.

OK, but how does this relate to parenting?

Research tells us that there is a very significant link between the mental health of parents and their child’s development. Parents who are depressed have less energy to spend on their children, and their decreased mood can lead to negative parenting behaviors. Depressed parents are more likely to be hostile and withdrawn towards their children. Unfortunately, this means children who live with depressed parents are at a higher risk for abuse and neglect.

The effects of parental depression don’t end there, though. Research suggests that parental depression negatively affects the very development of a child. Children who have depressed parents have higher rates of behavioral issues, academic problems, and mental illness than children whose parents are not depressed.

For more statistics and research on parental depression, check out this piece on family well-being from the Administration for Children and Families.

Fortunately, there is hope.

Treatments for depression, including individual therapy and medication, can be very effective. For parents who have experienced depression and think their experience may have affected their children, there is hope! Studies have shown that “two-generation” (meaning parent and child) strategies to treating depression have a positive effect on children. Strategies like FGCB, or family group cognitive behavioral therapy – have helped children understand that their parent has an illness and how to develop coping mechanisms that promote resilience in children.

Some programs, such as Healthy Families America and Early Head Start, help deal with depression early by providing screenings to participating parents. Screenings for depression help catch problems before they can negatively affect children.

What should I do if I think I’m experiencing depression or know someone who is?

If you think you’re experiencing depression yourself or know someone who is, there are a few things you can try.

The most important thing to do is reach out. Whether you’re worried about yourself or someone else, reaching out to talk and provide support can be an enormous help. Depression and isolation go hand in hand, so working to break out of that isolation can go a long way towards the road to recovery. If you’re reaching out to someone else, just listen. You don’t have to fix all of a person’s problems in order to be helpful, but just provide a friendly ear.

Positive lifestyle changes, such a change in diet or activity can also help. If you think a friend may be suffering from depression, bringing them a home-cooked meal could help take some tasks off their plate while providing a chance to socialize and open up.

If you’re feeling depressed, it can also help to talk about it with an unbiased professional in a therapy setting. To learn more about programs in your community that could help you or someone you know who is dealing with depression, check out this list of resources.