Last updated: Jul 25, 2008
Children of depressed parents are at greater risk than others for academic and behavioral problems and for developing depression themselves. The risks are a complicated stew of genetics and environmental circumstances, says Michelle Sherman, PhD, a clinical associate professor of psychology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City and the author of I'm Not Alone: A Teen's Guide to Living with a Parent Who Has a Mental Illness. Children often assume blame or responsibility for their parents when things go wrong, like in depression or divorce, she adds.
Is mom's depression more harmful?
A mothers depression can trigger behavioral problems in her children, according to Fogarty. "Mothers' depression does tend to contribute to teens having problem behaviors, as well as social and academic difficulties. In some cases the effects tend to be stronger with adolescent daughters," she says.
Despite the bleak prognosis, depressed parents and their families should know that there is much one can do to mitigate a childs risk for becoming depressed. "Just one adult whos available and willing to help support the child can make a big difference in a childs life when a parent is depressed," says Sherman. The extra emotional support can come from another relative like an aunt or uncle, or from members of school, church, or community groups. "If youre the spouse, youll be busy with the depressed person most of the time, so youll need help with the kids," she says.