Suffering from a mental health issue isn’t just tough on the person suffering from it — it’s a challenge for those closest to them as well. In particular, growing up with a depressed parent can be incredibly detrimental to the well-being and development of a child. In this post, we explore how clinical depression affects parents and their children, its long-term effects on the children and how to resolve issues arising from growing up with depressed parents.
What Is Clinical Depression?
Many people, when they hear the word “depression” think of someone feeling sad, which can lead to a trivialization of the issue. However, there’s a significant difference between sad parents and those with clinical depression as a long-term mental health issue. Depression is a serious health issue in the United States, with 15% of men and 21% of women reporting symptoms at various levels of severity.
Most people have times when they feel sad, but if this feeling carries on for weeks or months, it may be clinical depression. If you have depression, you experience sadness and hopelessness which can lead to you being tearful more than usual or losing interest in hobbies and interests. There can also be physical symptoms, such as loss of appetite, aches and pains and a reduced sex drive.
The severity of clinical depression varies from mild to severe. If you have mild depression, you might be able to function mostly as normal, feeling persistently sad. Severe depression can lead to a total lack of motivation and feeling suicidal. Clinical depression at this level requires immediate professional intervention.
Common Ways That Depression Can Affect the Parental Role
A depressed parent can affect their child’s development in many ways. For example, a mother with depression will use less emotion in communicating with their baby and make less eye contact, impacting the child’s emotional development. Other areas include:
- Academic development. A study of over a million children in Sweden concluded that children whose parents suffered from depression did measurably worse at school than their peers.
- Decreased safety. Parents with depression may be forgetful of important things such as using a child seat in the car or getting their child immunized.
- Social exclusion. People with depression socialize less, and this can have a knock-on effect on their children. When a parent doesn’t want to leave the house, they are less likely to take their children to the park or on days out with friends and family.
- Children take on parental roles and tasks. When parents have mental health issues, they are less able to complete day-to-day tasks, and these get passed on to the children. Children may end up cooking meals for parents and looking after younger siblings as a parental substitute.
Long-term Effects on Children of Having a Depressed Parent
The effects of growing up with a suicidal mother or a depressed father can continue into a child’s adult life. As mentioned earlier, children of depressed parents tend to perform less well academically than their peers, and this can affect their career prospects in adulthood. However, the problems go beyond that.
Children with a depressed parent are more likely to also develop depression, and this can also last into adulthood. Of course, this is at least in part because of the genetic factors involved in depression, with around 50% of depression thought to be inherited from a parent.
The child’s physical health can also be affected into adulthood. This can be for a variety of reasons; depressed parents may neglect their children’s nutrition, the homes may be dirtier and they may get less exercise. Performing chores when small may also put developing bones and muscles under pressure.
Resolving the Trauma Caused by a Depressed Parent
The first step to resolving trauma caused by a depressed parent is to acknowledge it. You may not have realized if your parent was depressed when you were growing up, accepting their behavior as normal. If you now suffer from depression yourself as a result or related issues such as anxiety, it’s important to trace the origins of these problems. At this point, it’s also important to acknowledge that their depression was no fault of theirs or yours. Your parent was suffering from an illness and likely doing their best to deal with it.
Of course, dealing with this is not straightforward, so it’s best to get help, both professionally and from those closest to you. Other family members may have gone through the same experience and be able to offer support. You may also be able to resolve your trauma by obtaining counseling and appropriate therapy.
How Parents With Depression Can Mitigate Damage to Their Children
If you’re a parent living with depression, you need to realize the impact it may be having on your children. To begin, talk to your doctor. They will be able to diagnose your condition, recommend treatments and refer you to dedicated mental health professionals. This step may be difficult as people with depression often don’t wish to help themselves, but it is vital to the well-being of your family.
Next, find support for your family. Your illness may be causing isolation and causing you to withdraw from socializing, but these connections are vital for your family. A parent, sibling or friend may be able to help out when your depression is making parenting difficult and ease your burdens, in turn helping with your recovery.
Finally, talk to your children. Find a way to communicate to them that you aren’t well and you’re getting help. Most importantly, they need to know that your illness is not their fault and that they are loved and cared for.
Help Is Available for Parents With Depression and Their Children
When a parent is depressed, it’s not just about getting support for a sad parent, the whole family needs help. At Restore, we have the expertise to help those suffering from depression and provide counseling for the whole family. Whether you need outpatient treatment and counseling for mild depression or inpatient treatment for severe clinical depression, we have the resources to meet your needs. So give us a call today or make contact through our online form to get you and your family on the road to living the best life possible.