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Parental Depression: How it Impacts Children

Depression continues to be one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States. In 2017, an estimated 17. 3 million American adults had at least one depressive episode.

While studying the impact that depression has on children, it’s been found that untreated parental depression can result in negative consequences for children.

As COVID-19 continues to sweep the globe, mental health remains a significant public health concern – especially among those who were living with depression prior to the pandemic.

COVID-19 Is Creating Unique Circumstances

Across the country and globe, doctors have stated that COVID-19 is unlike anything they’ve seen before. Cases are rising steeply, people are experiencing staggering rates of unemployment, and millions are isolated from their loved ones.

The combination of these variables, in addition to significant health concerns, is creating a wave of mental health complications, including increased rates of depression.

Unfortunately, many experts agree that COVID-19 could lead to an epidemic of clinical depression. That is why individuals, families, and communities must respond now in order to better prepare for the months ahead.

From prolonged social isolation to financial hardship, COVID-19 is creating a “perfect storm” of depression risks.

What does this mean for the children of those living with increased rates of depression?

Parental Depression Threatens the Well-being of Children

Prior to COVID-19, approximately 15 million children in the United States lived with a parent who displayed symptoms of severe depression. This equates to approximately one in five children.

The research shows that parental depression is a significant risk factor, impacting a child’s life in several ways. Just as depression shapes and defines a parent’s perception of the world, their outlook and experiences begin to have a trickle-down effect. All aspects of a child’s life are impacted by their parents’ internal and external experiences.

Maternal depression and childhood development are of particular concern, as the effects of maternal postpartum depression are not restricted to infancy and may extend into toddlerhood, school-age children, and beyond.

Within one study, it was found that approximately 34 percent of children of depressed mothers had a psychiatric disorder themselves – 10 percent of which were facing a depressive disorder themselves. Rates of anxiety and disruptive behavior disorders were also elevated among these children.

In many cases, children of depressed parents have an increased genetic risk, which is exacerbated by the environmental stress of a parent’s depression symptoms.

Are You a Parent Suffering From Depression? Here’s What You Need to Know

The first step towards improving your own mental health and the well-being of your child(ren) is to recognize that depression is a complex mental illness and there is NO shame in seeking help.

It is important to understand that your own experiences with depression are likely having a negative impact on attachment and bonding, leading to ineffective, and in many cases, harmful parenting strategies.

A cycle of self-criticism and guilt will not help this situation. However, taking the following steps will:

  • Seek professional help with parenting and your mental health. Not only should you seek treatment throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but you can also obtain parenting guidance. A professional can help you better understand typical childhood behavior, as well as how your symptoms may impact your child’s behavior. They will then work with you to develop a parenting plan that benefits everyone involved.
  • Also, seek professional help for your child. A neutral party can significantly help a child by alleviating some of the distress and confusion they feel. By addressing your child’s concerns and struggles, this often has a positive impact on negative cycles that make parental depression worse.
  • Take advantage of the little things. You may be practicing social distancing or even social isolation with your family, which means recently, you’re around your children a lot more. Small doses of undivided attention can mean the world to children. As you continue to seek help for yourself, get into the habit of spending time together in a positive and constructive manner. Whether that means you take a 15-walk together each day or schedule weekly game time, these small steps can have a big impact.

If you are struggling to find your “new sense of normal” during this challenging time, please do not suffer in silence. Seek help and if you’re concerned about your child (or a loved one suffering from depression), please refer to the following resource:

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