Monday, March 15, 2010

Depressed parents can pass on mental health problems to kids

Kids with depressed parents often have anxiety issues; but studies show therapy helps.

Anyone who has ever flipped on a TV can tell you that depression is everywhere - commercials touting various anti-depressants emphasize the need to treat depression right away, lest it take an increasing toll on one’s life. Some drugs also play up the physical harm depression can create, manifesting itself in various aches and pains.

Indeed, researchers are now delving into the effects depression has on children who grow up with a depressed parent. It’s been a bourgeoning area of research for the last couple decades, and the Los Angeles Times reports that “evidence is mounting that growing up with a depressed parent increases a child's risk for mental health problems, cognitive difficulties and troubled social relationships.” One study found that depression in mothers can affect infants – they were found to cry more often. The effects can linger in kids as they grow up, too: Other studies have found that kids with depressed parents often have greater anxiety levels.

While postpartum depression can obviously play a big role in mother-child interactions, recent studies have found that depression in either parent can cause behavioral or mental health problems in children. One study, led by Vanderbilt University researcher Judy Garber, found that kids who have a depressed parent are at greater risk for having trouble in school, and for substance abuse and suicide. Of the 316 students who were the focus of Garber’s study, all of them said they had either experienced symptoms of depression in the past, or at the time the study began. Half of the teens were sent to group therapy sessions; and those teens reported fewer signs of depression after eight weeks.

A similar study by Johns Hopkins Children’s Center placed kids of depressed parents ages 7 to 12 in an eight-week course of behavioral therapy, and those children showed no signs of emerging anxiety problems a year later. But of the kids in a comparison group who did not receive therapy, 30 percent did get diagnosed with anxiety disorders. Though therapy has been shown in multiple studies to ward off or lessen depression and anxiety in children and teens, not many health insurance companies cover such treatments. But perhaps as health care reform inches closer to reality, and as continuing studies reveal the effectiveness of such programs, behavioral health therapy treatments will eventually become more readily available.

Photo credit: Hendrike

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