The best way to treat depression in children is by … mom. According to the Wall Street Journal, about 1 in 8 women can expect to become depressed at some point in her life with about 24% of women becoming depressed during or after pregnancy. Put another way, some 400,000 babies are born per year to mothers who are depressed — and children in the first year of their life are “particularly vulnerable” to their parents’ depression because
…that’s when [children's] brains are rapidly forming connections. When parents are withdrawn or unresponsive, attachment and bonding are affected.
It does stand to reason that a mother free of anxiety and more attuned to her feelings and thought processes would be better able to take care of her children and, too, of herself. The Wall Street Journal cites a number of studies that suggest that “when Mama [and Dad] ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”:
A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry in March shows, however, that when a mother’s depression is successfully treated, her children get progressively better, too—even a year after the treatment ends. And the faster she responds to treatment, the faster her children do, as well….
Evidence is growing that depression in fathers affects children, as well. A study in the journal Pediatrics last month of 1,746 new fathers found 7% had an episode of major depression in the past year. The depressed dads were only half as likely to read to their children—but four times as likely to spank them—as the dads who weren’t depressed.
The American Association of Pediatrics urges physicians to screen new mothers for depression using a ten-question survey; the items asks women to respond to statements such as “I have blamed myself unncessarily when things went wrong.” Further, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now recommends that expecting mothers continue to take antidepressants, though mothers are urged to “discuss the pros and cons of quitting their medication with their doctors.” Psychotherapy has also proved useful for some women.
Cases such as that of a Colorado woman, Stephanie Rochester, attest to why detecting and treating depression in new mothers are crucial. Rochester smothered her infant son in 2010 and could face charges of first-degree murder after fearing that he was showing symptoms of autism; she said that she had been suffering from postpartum depression,.
It’s also equally important to identify and treat depression as early as possible in children. Myrna Weissman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University who has long studied depression in families, says that “young children tend to have anxiety first, then develop depression around puberty, then start substance abuse by late adolescence.”
With all this said, it should also be acknowledged that genes as well as experiences and the environment all play a role in causing depression. As the Wall Street Journal notes, “some kids with long family histories of depression remain resilient,” for reasons that psychologists and researchers seek to understand.
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