There are warning signs that teachers and parents can watch for in children that may indicate a depressed parent is having a negative effect:
Withdrawal from social activities — If a formerly outgoing child suddenly spends a lot of time home alone in his or her room, this can be a sign that he or she is avoiding a depressed parent or retreating into him- or herself.
Difficulty paying attention at school — High distractibility, extreme fidgeting, or an inability to pay attention can all be signs that something is taxing the child’s emotions and energy.
Unwarranted aggression — Especially in a formerly docile child, this can be a way of acting out anger that he or she doesn’t feel safe directing at the depressed parent. Often, the parent may seem too “out of it” or sad to be subjected to even deserving anger.
The Importance of Treatment
If your child is acting out, it is essential to first look inward and ask yourself some difficult questions. Is it possible that your own depression is affecting your child? If so, you need to seek treatment not only for yourself, but also for the sake of your child. According to O’Connor, up to 90 percent of even severely depressed adults can be effectively treated with a combination of medication and therapy.
In fact, depression in adults is easier to treat than the likely resulting conditions it can cause in their children. Janice Papolos, in her book Overcoming Depression: The Definitive Resource for Patients and Families Who Live With Depression, explains, “Children have a huge capacity for guilt and self-blame. They may assume they have caused the parent’s problem. They can’t understand what has happened to the parent they knew and counted on, and they no longer feel secure, protected and loved.” Papolos discusses the importance of sitting down with children and explaining the illness of depression and in what ways the affected parent is on the road to getting better. It is also essential, she says, to make it clear that in no way is the depression the child’s fault.
Depression Through Generations
Of course, it has been determined that there is a genetic component to depression. If you are a depressed parent, your child is three times more likely to suffer from depression in adolescence or adulthood. Children of depressed parents are also more likely to suffer from alcoholism, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, panic attacks and poor social functioning.
These statistics indicate, as reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry, that “initiatives aimed at early detection and possible treatment intervention in the parents of depressed offspring and the offspring of depressed parents” are absolutely essential. In other words, parents owe it to themselves and to their children to treat their illness, for the present health of the family and for the health of future generations.
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