Treating Depressed Moms Makes Kids Feel Better, Too, Study Says

Filed under: In The News, Weird But True, Expert Advice: Just For You, Health

depressed moms

Treating mothers will treat their kids. Credit: Corbis

If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

So it stands to reason that when Mama lightens up, the dark cloud over her children's heads disappears, as well.

Researchers put this hypothesis to the test and -- whadaya know -- it's true. When a mother is successfully treated for depression, everyone has a better day. Especially the kiddies.

BusinessWeek reports researchers studied 80 women with children ages 7 to 17 who suffer from depression. The women were enrolled in a U.S. National Institute of Mental Health trial for the seriously bummed out. These are people who didn't respond to the first, second or even third attempts at treatment.

However, according to BusinessWeek, as soon as the melancholy mommies showed the first sign of improvement, kids start perking up at home and doing better in school. Overall, they just functioned better. Some mothers took longer climbing out of their funks than others.

But even among those women, children started feeling better. It just took them a little while longer to actually improve their performances at school.

Ladies who kept singing the blues saw, naturally enough, no improvement with their kids.

The study appears in the March 15 online edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

"This study shows that (depression) remission, even after several months of treatment, can have major positive effects not only for the patient but also for her children," researcher Myrna Weissman says in a journal news release.

Susan Stiffelman, a family therapist in Southern California who writes the "Ask Advice Mama" column for ParentDish, says depression is definitely contagious. She tells ParentDish the number one thing depressed mothers and fathers need to do is take action.

"You're really making a choice when you're choosing to do nothing, and that choice is to loop your child into your depression," she says.

Parents caught in that pit need to give their child a chance to climb out, Stiffelman says. Expose them to cheerful family members and friends. Let them them vent their feelings.

"You want to make sure your child still has a childhood," she says.

And although depression is contagious, Stiffelman tells ParentDish, "it's not a life sentence. It's not a given."

You always have choices.

"With so much in society that tells us that depression is inheritable, the best thing you can do for a child, if you're depressed, is for them to see you actively seeking help, support and treatment," Stiffelman says.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.