• The children of depressed parents could be at an increased risk of developing depression or other mental health disorders.
  • Our external environment, in addition to our parent’s own experience with mental health conditions, may set into motion subtle shifts in our genetics; one allele, in particular, might leave kids vulnerable to mental health conditions like depression. 
  • While parents might feel like taking time to look after themselves is selfish, the reality is that it’s necessary. Not doing so can have negative consequences for friends, family, and most importantly, their children. 
  • For parents struggling with depression, keep in mind that depression is a common mental health disorder, and there are effective treatment options like individual and family counseling as well as self-care activities like meditation.
  • While it’s common for people to feel apprehensive about confronting their mental health concerns, especially when it comes to depression, recent research shows that public opinions are changing. 
  • More people than ever before believe that there’s no shame in suffering from a mental health condition; the public is starting to view seeking treatment as not only beneficial but normal. 
  • Depressed parents can help to prevent depression in their children by seeking professional assistance for themselves as well as preventative treatment for their children. 

When we think about or discuss mental health topics such as depression, our minds tend to zero in on what the individual with the mental health condition is going through. But what about those closest to them—like their children? As a mental health condition that can leave sufferers feeling distant and isolated, depression might lead to the neglect of children, a result of their parent’s challenges.

Having a depressed parent creates a complex situation for these children and their family members. It’s a dynamic with lasting effects that are still not completely understood; however, recent findings are indicating a parent’s depression can affect each stage of a child’s development, from pre-infancy all the way into adulthood. 

And yet, there is a bright side. Mental health researchers are also examining what factors can help reduce the likelihood that children of depressed mothers and fathers will suffer from childhood depression or other mental health conditions during youth or later in their lives. One of the most successful strategies being preventative mental health care to detect the warning signs for both at-risk parents and their kids. By getting treatment for themselves, parents might be able to reduce their child’s risk of developing a mental health condition. This, however, will require overcoming the stigma and negative perceptions that still surround mental health services.

In an effort to understand and reduce these negative effects that children of depressed parents experience, let’s examine 1) epigenetics, 2) the importance of seeking mental health services, and 3) supplemental strategies that’ll help parents take better care of their psychological health.

Early Childhood Trauma and Epigenetics 

Psychological research has long examined whether negative events in our childhood can possibly lead to depression and other conditions later in life. And when it comes to our genes, the field of epigenetics—the science of how both our environment and our parent’s own experiences influence what genes are expressed by our bodies—is highlighting the ways that we pass on our experiences to those who come after us.

Some findings indicate that we can become susceptible to mental health conditions during childhood through a specific version of one gene, called the 5-HTTLPR allele. This allele may be harmless or inactive until it’s triggered by trauma or maltreatment, acting as a gateway to childhood depression and chronic depression later in life. Allele 5-HTTLPR’s relationship to chronic depression is an indication of just how much a child’s future can be affected by neglect, even if it’s unintentionally caused by a parent struggling with depression. 

Preventing Depression in Children of Depressed Parents Starts with Overcoming Stigma 

As we touched on earlier, the children of parents who are dealing with depression are at an increased risk of developing depression or another mental health condition. In addition, maternal depression can leave children at risk of learning disabilities and cognitive impairments. It appears that depression has the ability to cycle from one generation to the next, but this doesn’t have to be the case. 

If you’ve been struggling with depression as well as fears of being judged or viewed as weak because of it, it might help to know that our societal perceptions of mental health topics are changing. A 2019 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association reported that 87% of Americans believe that there’s nothing wrong with having a mental health disorder, while 86% agreed that people with a disorder can get better. 

So parents, if you’re dealing with depression, don’t hesitate to talk to a mental health professional about your struggle; professional insight could really make a difference in your life and your family members. Additionally, consider whether child or adolescent therapy could be beneficial for your kids. Preventative mental health care (which identifies risk factors and warning signs and sets coping strategies in place) for the children of depressed parents may lower a child’s risk of developing a mental health condition by 40%

Ultimately, as a parent, your kids rely on you for support and stability. As a result, parents often feel selfish for turning attention inward and taking time to care for their own health. But it’s important, and if parents don’t take care of themselves, it can have unintentional effects on their children and family members. 

Parents with Depression: Help Is Readily Available

While deciding to seek assistance from a mental health professional might seem scary, it’s a great way to prioritize the wellbeing of yourself as well as your children. These steps can help you get started: 

  1. Consider attending one-on-one sessions with a depression counselor. Depression is a common disorder, and your provider can offer a unique treatment plan designed to address your specific depression symptoms—additionally, they can offer tips for taking care of your well-being outside of therapy, too. Many people find that therapy can help them enjoy a better quality of life.
  2. Give family counseling a try. Having the whole family attend counseling sessions together can strengthen your bonds and open the floor for tough (yet important) conversations with family members.
  3. Take time to focus on you. As a parent, you’re also responsible for taking care of yourself, so you can be there for your loved ones. Whether you need to exercise, meditate, or even get a small vacation on the books, remember that it’s more than okay—in fact, necessary—to put a little energy into your own health and wellbeing.

Depression can be debilitating, and it often impacts the individual’s family members too, especially their children. Though it might feel selfish or unnecessary, parents with depression should keep in mind that it’s a common condition to develop. And more importantly, it’s important and necessary to take your mental health seriously, as untreated depression can have a lasting impact on not just yourself but your loved ones.

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