Depression’s Impact on Children and Families

Depression’s impact on children and families is significant, as this frequent ailment can affect not only the parents but also their loved ones. Here’s how to seek treatment for your children and help them cope with the challenges they face.

One in six Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will experience depressed symptoms at some point (CDC). But, while depression can feel isolating, it can significantly affect the lives of people close to the depressed individual, including children and family.

Substantial study has also demonstrated that a parent’s depression (particularly when untreated) can hinder the social, emotional, and cognitive development of their child.

William Beardslee, M.D., a professor at Harvard Medical School, explains that depressed parents frequently fear that they have irreparably harmed their children, but they have not. Our study has demonstrated that youngsters are exceptionally resilient and that parents can do much to help their children grow up strong, healthy, and happy.

Why Some Parents May Not Seek Treatment For Their Children

According to many who have experienced depression, it is nearly impossible to describe how it feels. Anne Sheffield, author, states, “You become terribly sad, listless, and incapable of any joy or enthusiasm.”

Because they’re embarrassed that they haven’t bonded with their offspring, depressed parents frequently conceal their emotions. They may also be concerned that their children may be stolen from them. Due to the stigma surrounding mental illness or perhaps because parents are so preoccupied with raising their children that they neglect their own needs, many people go untreated and suffer in silence.

Even parents who identify their symptoms sometimes attribute them to stress and believe they will recover on their own, for fear of being perceived as weak or insane. The longer your symptoms go untreated, though, the more likely you are to experience recurrent episodes of depression, according to study. Because moderate to severe depression rarely resolves on its own, treatment is as important for depression as it is for identifying any physical health condition, such as diabetes.

Impact of Depression on Children

Depression can make it difficult for parents to provide what their children need most: affection, patience, playfulness, and strict limits. Unsurprisingly, parents who are experiencing clinical depression are self-critical and unable to make decisions. As a result, every choice—from what to make for supper to how warmly to wrap the baby—can feel overwhelming.

The impact of depression on children varies according to their age, requirements, and obstacles. Yet, here is what specialists know:


One in nine new parents experiences postpartum depression (PPD), which can make attachment challenging. Parents are less likely to interact with their infants, make eye contact, and use an engaging tone of voice. As a result, infants can develop anxiety and terror. Psychiatrist David Fassler, M.D., explains that infants with depression may be withdrawn, whiny, and stop interacting with others. Also, studies show that children who are nursed and whose moms have had PPD for longer than two months gain weight more slowly than children whose mothers are not depressed.

Toddlers and preschool-aged children

The brain of a young child is formed by encounters with adults. To care for a child of this age requires energy and creativity, but sad parents are more likely to feel exhausted, irritated, and quickly frustrated. According to a significant study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, as a result, their children have problems regulating their own emotions, complying with demands, and acquiring problem-solving skills. Also, three-year-olds with depressed parents are more likely to perform poorly on tests of language skills and school preparation than their peers without depressed parents.

School-aged youngsters

Dr. Fassler explains that children of this age are frequently compelled to assume adult responsibilities, such as caring for younger siblings or preparing meals, when their parents are too depressed to function. They may appear very mature on the surface, yet they are quite susceptible.

Depressed parents are less likely to encourage their children intellectually or assist them in coordinating social arrangements, which might have a negative impact on the academic performance of their children. According to studies from Vanderbilt University, depressed parents tend to be more critical, and as a result, children of this age tend to have a more negative self-image. Kids are also more likely to have behavioral issues at school if their parents delay disciplining them at home.

How To Safeguard Your Children Against Your Depression

Dr. Beardslee states, “With the correct help, depressed mothers can still be good parents.” Below are the necessary actions to take.

Get expert assistance.

Getting treatment, whether it be psychotherapy, antidepressant medication, or both, is the best thing you can do for your family. Consult a physician or mental health professional for additional information.

Rely on your spouse (and others).

David J. Diamond, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist from San Diego, explains that when the other parent is actively involved, it minimizes the likelihood that a child would develop low self-esteem or scholastic problems. If possible, hiring a babysitter and other domestic help is essential for parents with PPD.

Talk about it with your children.

Dr. Beardslee observes that children are frequently omitted from discussions of depression, despite the fact that they must endure all of its consequences. A child must understand they are not at fault. You may say, “It’s not your fault that I’ve been crying and yelling so much. It’s because I’m ill, but I’m receiving therapy for it, and I’ll soon recover.” It is unnecessary to use the term depression with children less than 7 or 8. With older children, you can connect depression to a more known medical condition. Inform your youngster that they should feel comfortable asking questions regardless of their age.

Let children keep to routine activities.

When a child is able to continue extracurricular activities and playdates, they will feel as though they still have some influence over their lives. Contact friends or family for assistance with drop-offs and pick-ups if required. “When parents see that their children can still have a normal childhood and a bright future, they restore confidence, and this gives them hope for recovery,” says Dr. Beardslee.

Does My Child Also Have Depression?

Parents should be vigilant for warning signs in their children because at least half of all unhappy people experience their first symptoms in childhood or adolescence. The following are symptoms of depression in both adults and children.

  • Depression that lasts more than two weeks.
  • Frequent, effortless weeping.
  • Changes in sleep or appetite.
  • Lack of vitality
  • Inability to enjoy formerly enjoyed activities.
  • Social isolation
  • Increased irritability, agitation, anxiety, or worry.
  • Suicidal and suicidal ideation

The following symptoms may be present in your children as well.

  • Recurrent headaches or abdominal pain.
  • Persistent apathy or dullness.
  • Persistent self-criticism
  • High sensitivity to failure or rejection.
  • Attempts or discussions to flee from home.

The Conclusion

As depression science continues to improve, we learn more about how to effectively identify, treat, and help people with depressive illnesses live fuller lives. Being a depressed parent does not necessarily imply that your child is in danger of developing problems, but it does mean that you may need assistance to find an appropriate therapy, treatment, or support system for you and your family.

If you think you might be depressed, ask your primary care doctor to screen you or recommend a therapist.

Alternatively, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), and experts there will help you find nearby mental health resources.

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