Depressed Mothers and Their Children
Numerous studies show that the children of depressed parents are at high risk for developing depression, anxiety disorders, and health and academic problems. Learn more.
Numerous studies show that the
children of depressed parents are at high risk for developing depression,
anxiety disorders, and health and academic problems (Beardslee, 2011). The
children’s problems often continue as they mature into adults (Weissman, 2006).
However, recent studies are uncovering the best points of intervention for this
New research shows that successful
treatment of a depressed mother to remission is associated with reduction of
symptoms in her children (Weissman, Pilowsky, Garber, Swartz, Wickramaratne,
2005). The type of treatment the mother receives—medication or psychotherapy—did
not appear to matter. The important ingredient is the mother’s remission. These
results endured during the year after maternal remission. However, the results
were not consistent across all groups. Children of single and/or anxious
mothers had the lowest rate of maternal remission and poorest child outcomes, even
if the mother remitted (Talati, 2007).
One point of intervention is when the
depressed mother comes in for treatment. A new study shows frequent problems in
children of mothers seeking treatment for depression. The study, which spanned
two countries (United States and Canada) with different ethnic, racial and
economic groups, showed about 40 percent of the children were having problems—usually
depression, anxiety, or behavioral problems—at the time when the mother came
for treatment herself (Batten, 2012).
The paper concluded with the
following pieces of clinical guidance:
- “Children and adolescents, aged 7 to
17 years, of mothers coming for the treatment of depression are of high-risk
for having psychiatric symptoms and behavioral problems.
- Clinicians treating depressed mothers
should inquire about the children’s emotional state and about behavioral
- Monitoring of the child’s symptoms
during the course of the mother’s treatment is warranted.
- Referral for treatment of the child
should be considered if the child’s symptoms are not alleviated after a
remission of maternal depression.
- Comorbid maternal anxiety disorders
or severe maternal depression may be associated with increased problems in the
studies should also include depressed fathers and their children.
- Batten, L.A., Hernandez, M., Pilowsky, D.J., Stewart,
J.W., Blier, P., Flament, M.F., Poh, E., Wickramaratne, P., & Weissman, M.M.
(2012, November). Children of Treatment-Seeking Depressed Mothers: A Comparison
With the Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) Child Study. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry, 51(11), 1185-96. doi:
- Beardslee, W.R., Gladstone, T.R., & O’Connor, E.E.
(2011, November). Transmission and prevention of mood disorders among children
of affectively ill parents: a review. J
Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry, 50(11), 1098-1109.
- Garber, J., Ciesla, J.A., McCauley, E., Diamond, G., &
Schloredt, K.A. (2011, January-February). Remission of depression in parents:
links to healthy functioning in their children. Child Dev, 82(1), 226-243.
- Pilowsky, D.J., Wickramaratne, P., Talati, A., et al.
(2008, September). Children of depressed mothers 1 year after the initiation of
maternal treatment: findings from the STAR*D-Child Study. Am J Psychiatry, 165(9), 1136-1147.
- Swartz, H.A., Frank, E., Zuckoff, A., et al. (2008,
September). Brief interpersonal psychotherapy for depressed mothers whose
children are receiving psychiatric treatment. Am J Psychiatry, 165(9), 1155-1162.
- Talati, A., Wickramaratne, P.J., Pilowsky, D.J.,
Alpert, J.E., Cerda, G., Garber, J., Hughes, C.W., King, C.A., Malloy, E., Sood,
A.B., Verdeli, H., Trivedi, M.H., Rush, A.J., & Weissman, M.M. (2007,
December). Remission of maternal depression and child symptoms among single
mothers: a STAR*D-Child report. Soc
Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol, 42(12), 962-71. Epub 2007 Oct 12. Erratum
in: Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol, 42(12),
- Weissman, M.M., Pilowsky, D.J., Wickramaratne, P.J.,
et al. (2006, March 22/29). Remissions in maternal depression and child
psychopathology: a STAR*D child report. JAMA,
- Weissman, M.M., Wickramaratne, P., Nomura, Y., et al.
(2005, January). Families at high and low risk for depression: a 3-generation
study. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 62(1), 29-36.
- Wickramaratne, P., Gameroff, M.J., Pilowsky, D.J., et
al. (2011, June). Children of depressed mothers 1 year after remission of
maternal depression: findings from the STAR*D-Child study. Am J Psychiatry, 168(6), 593-602.