Children whose parents are depressed also need care

By Michelle Anderson • Published: September 22nd, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

When parents are depressed, their children may be hurting, too.

To break that cycle, mental health experts need to look beyond just their patient.

They should look at the patient’s child.

A report from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine suggests that mental health professionals evaluate depression’s hold on families… particularly on children… and to design treatment programs that target the whole family.

About one in five parents in the United States experience depression every year. And more than fifteen-million children under age eighteen live with an adult who has had major depression in the past year, the report said.

Much more research has been done on depressed mothers than fathers. But previous research shows that although depressed parents may not deliberately harm their children, the condition is linked to poor parenting and to children in worse physical health than their peers.

And despite remission or recovery from depression, those patients’ parenting skills may never improve to the level of happier parents.

Parental depression’s effect on children has been overlooked for so long that that the report calls for states to consider making big changes.

Those changes could include making affordable mental health treatment available in places other than traditional doctors’ offices, such as Head Start facilities, schools or even private homes.

Unfortunately, even if health care professionals include all family members in treatment plans, the outlook isn’t much sunnier. Only one-third of depressed adults seek treatment… which means their children likely won’t get help, either.