Treating mom's depression for kids' sake

A couple of my past columns have dealt with post-partum depression and the importance for both mother and child of treating it appropriately.
Not only does it help mom cope with the transition to having a new child at home, but it can be critical to the bonding process and early relationship of mother and baby – which can have a lasting impact on a developing brain.
Studies have shown that treating the depression of mothers who are no longer post-partum is also beneficial to the mental health of both woman and child.
One study published a couple of years ago in the American Journal of Psychiatry, examined 123 mother-child pairs and found successful treatment of maternal depression improved the mental health of children as well.
Children involved in this study ranged in age from seven to 17 and were assessed every three months for one year after their mothers had already begun a treatment study.
Children were not treated during the study, but doctors were looking for mood, anxiety and disruptive behaviour disorders and did provide information about psychiatric treatment to parents if a disorder was diagnosed.
Results showed a significant decrease in psychiatric symptoms among the children of depressed mothers once the mother’s depression was treated successfully.
Of the 123 mothers being treated for depression, 70 experienced full remission of symptoms and there was a significant decrease in the number of symptoms reported among children whose mothers were in this group. Children of mothers whose depression did not go into remission did not experience a significant change in their symptoms during the one year study period.
Interestingly, the most dramatic decrease in children’s psychiatric symptoms occurred in those whose mothers experienced remission within three months of initial treatment. Symptom improvement was not significant for children of mothers who took longer to get better.
Also, there was no significant association between a child’s symptoms and the current severity of the maternal depression – meaning the mother’s improvement was not likely a result of improvement in the children’s mental health.
Researchers believe these results suggest doctors who are treating children with psychiatric disorders may be wise to ask after the mental health of parents since treating a parent’s mental illness could be beneficial to the recovery of the child.
More research in this area is needed with some additional factors taken into consideration such as whether or not the same effects would occur if depressed fathers received treatment.

Still, these results do provide one more compelling reason to seek treatment for depression. Symptoms do have an effect on your loved ones – both in the way you interact, and (in the case of children) in their own mental health. Seeking help could be beneficial for you and your family.

More States of Mind articles

About the Author

Paul Latimer has over 25 years experience in clinical practice, research, and administration.

After obtaining his medical degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, he did psychiatric training at Queen's, Oxford and Temple Universities. After his residency he did a doctorate in medical science at McMaster University where he was also a Medical Research Council of Canada Scholar.

Since 1983 he has been practicing psychiatry in Kelowna, BC, where he has held many administrative positions and conducted numerous clinical trials.

He has published many scientific papers and one book on the psychophysiology of the functional bowel disorders.

He is an avid photographer, skier and outdoorsman.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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