The research on parents who are depressed is overwhelming. To cite just one long-term study of adults who grew up with depressed parents, they suffered three times the rate of anxiety disorders and depression by their 30s compared to kids whose parents had no mental disorders, they were in poorer health and were much more likely to be dependent on drugs and alcohol.
That’s, well, that’s depressing. But the good news is that there’s growing evidence that the effects of having a depressed parent are reversible, according to this LA Times report. One of the biggest things, researchers are finding, is to change destructive parenting practices. A major issue with depressed parents is that they are a lot less interactive with their children. That lack of the “feedback loop” can permanently alter a small child’s brain and lead them to a host of problems. Teaching parents not to withdraw and to be consistent with their children can be very helpful in mitigating the effects of a parent’s depression.
Let me tell you, if you’re a parent who suffers from depression this whole article is enough to make you weep. I had a serious depressive episode when my daughter was about a year and a half old, PPD after the birth of my son and a return of the mild depression that’s always kind of followed me around about a year ago. In each case, I recognized what was happening before things really fell apart, and got help. Because of that, I wish it the story had addressed any research into the effects of a parent with well-treated depression. Even when I was at my worst, my kids got the best I was able to muster, and I’d bet most otherwise-okay depressed parents do the same. One mom quoted in the story said she’s very open about her depression with her older kids, explaining it as like diabetes — a condition she has that she controls medically. She’s also very clear with them that her occasional bouts of sadness aren’t their fault, and that she gets help and they can too, if they find themselves suffering.
As upsetting as the story is if you are a parent with depression, it should spur anybody who’s currently doing battle with the black cloud to take it seriously and get help. Take it from someone who’s been there: you’re not a bad person or a bad parent. You’re someone with a disease that is not under your control. No one’s life is going to be better with you checked out. Your kids need you, and you don’t deserve to live in agony. You can fix it, and the road back can start right now.