Parental depression negatively affects both parents and children. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the world.
In 2016, it was estimated that about 16 million adults in the US reported experiencing at least one major depressive disorder in the previous year, including parental depression. That translates to about 6.7% of all U.S. adults.
More concerning, though, is the fact that at least 15 million children in the United States alone (one in five) live in households where at least one parent has major severe depression.
Parental depression negatively affects both mothers’ and fathers’ ability to give their children the care, support, and nurture they need, and could lead to developmental issues, even prenatally.
Why is it important to deal with parental depression?
Parental depression is known to cause many developmental problems in children of all ages. Depressed mothers are more likely to have poor parenting skills and negative interactions with their children. This is thought to be, among other things, as a result of the kinds of disciplinary actions taken on children and practices taken to avoid injury or harm to the child.
Parenting skills play a key role in the upbringing of a child. Mothers who are depressed are less likely to use smoke alarms or seat belts, for example, and also the most likely to use corporal punishment. In women, two factors that are strongly associated with depression are poor health and domestic violence.
Sadly, not as much is known about the effects of depression in fathers relative to mothers. However, the studies that have been carried out seem to point to the same effects in mothers as fathers.
Most importantly, parental depression is now understood to cause poor physical and, later in life, mental health in children.
Causes of Parental Depression
There isn’t a single reason in the world why people suffer from anxiety and depression. It’s a debilitating disease, and as common as the stars we see, but the causes and triggers are different for everyone.
It should be thought of more in terms of risk and protective factors. Every parent experiences challenges during children’s upbringing (risk factors), but there should be resources to help them through such troublesome times (protective factors).
For this reason, it’s pretty difficult to summarize everyone’s life problems in just a few paragraphs, but there are a few commonalities that can be linked to the development of depression in parents, especially.
1. Family or personal history of depression
Genetics is currently thought to play at least a part in recurring depression in individuals. First-degree relatives, for instance, have been found to experience depression at a much higher prevalence than the general public. However, no single gene has been found to increase the chances of someone getting the disease thus far.
Which is to say, individuals from families with a history of depression are more likely to develop depression, we don’t know why yet.
2. Stressful life events
Stress is one of the most common risk factors when it comes to developing signs and symptoms of depression. Stressful life events such as a dissatisfying job and money issues may affect a person’s normal functioning and lead to an onset of depression.
It’s thus far suspected that cortisol, the stress hormone, may affect the transmission of serotonin, one of the feel-good hormones.
3. History of abuse or trauma
Domestic violence and child abuse can trigger a life-long onset of depression in an individual. People in violent relationships have been found to experience depressive episodes almost two times as much as those in healthy relationships.
Other factors such as alcohol abuse play a role in exacerbating the problem, however. Depression in adults is also underpinned by a history of abuse – emotional, psychological and sexual – during childhood.
4. Relationship problems
Something of a catch 22, depression is a major contributor to relationship problems, especially when the non-afflicted partner does not know how to cope. However, relationship problems are also a great contributor to the development of depression.
Such problems include a consistently absent partner, they are abusive either psychologically, emotionally or sexually and repeatedly dishonest. Keep in mind, however, that depression may underlie some of the problems experienced between partners.
5. Personality issues
It is currently understood that some personalities and temperaments are more susceptible to depression than others. For instance, perfectionists, people with esteem issues and those that are easily offended are more likely to be depressed than their peers.
Specific personality traits that have been linked to depression include negative emotionality, moodiness, and anxiety.
6. Brain Chemistry Imbalance
A lot of the time, depression is nobody’s fault. Some people are born with brains that are naturally unable to produce feel-good hormones on their own. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that, on average, the more depressed a woman was, the smaller her hippocampus – the area of the brain associated with motivation.
However, it’s much more complex than that. It’s not simply about having too much or too little chemicals in the brain. There are dozens of variables that play a part including medication and the other factors mentioned here.
7. Female Sex Hormones
The global prevalence of depression is higher in women than in men – women experience a global average of 5.5% and men 3.2%.
Why is depression more prevalent in women? The reasons differ, as you might guess. Women usually show sensitivity to interpersonal relationships more than men, for instance, while men take goal-oriented factors more to heart.
However, women are also exposed to other forms of depression because of hormones. Post-partum depression, menstrual cycle depression, and postmenopausal depression increase the prevalence in women. The underlying mechanisms are, however, unclear.
8. Poor Nutrition
There have not been a whole lot of studies on why or how poor diets affect depression. What you eat is so important for your well-being, though, that it has inspired a whole new field – nutritional psychiatry.
The gist of it is that the lower your intake of fat, butter, sweets, red meat, and refined grain; together with higher intakes of fish, olive oil and fruits puts you at a lower risk of depression.
Kathleen Smith, Ph.D., writes in her article based on the data by The National Bureau of Economic Research, that people diagnosed with depression at least once consume 69% of the United States Alcohol and 84% of the cocaine.
This might be one of the reasons why immediately drugs are mentioned, all sorts of bells start ringing in people’s minds. While the effects of substance abuse – from cigarettes to alcohol – are well documented, what lots of people forget to grasp is that even prescription medication can increase your chances of developing a disease.
10. Grief and Loss
Being able to grieve is one of the most important skills a person can possess. Grief is a natural response to death or loss. The grieving process is normal and is supposed to help a person heal. However, once it becomes overwhelming, depression starts to develop.
Coping with depression
The incidence of depression has been on the rise in adults over the last decade, but nobody can say why. In fact, most people don’t even realize they are depressed. Most seem to think they are just incredibly sad. The most common physical symptoms of depression are trouble with sleeping patterns and anxiety.
Considering just how common and debilitating depression is, the most tragic irony is that depression is rather easy to cure. New antidepressants and medications have been invented to help people keep their depression in check.
Methods for soothing depression
Recommended methods for dealing with depression are often psychosomatic. That is – you treat the symptoms to cure the disease. However, whichever way you decide to deal with depression, it must always include a healthy diet – less sugar, more veggies – and a regular, healthy sleeping schedule.
Most people often dismiss it because of how simple it sounds, but the importance of being healthy when combating depression can never be overstated.
a. Exercise more often
Everyone could use a little bit more exercise from time to time. Exercising helps to produce various chemicals that help to regulate stress – endorphins and dopamine – and give you a much-needed mental boost throughout the day. According to the CDC, exercise also helps regulate sleep patterns.
Yoga is a healthy form of exercise and the most easily accessible since it does not require any form of equipment. Less advanced poses also do not require much effort. Even better, it encourages meditation, which has been shown to, time and time again, helps keep a person calm and retain their mental well-being.
c. See a professional
The importance of seeing someone – either a counselor or a licensed therapist – can also not be overstated. Finding a therapist that works for you can be incredibly beneficial and will work a lot of wonders.
On the other hand, you are also free to see more specialized professionals like psychologists and psychiatrists whose main job is to help you change the way you think about certain things.
For instance, people who have depression as a result of being unable to express emotion may find comfort in confiding in their psychiatrists, who help them change the way they think about certain aspects of life.
Parental Depression faced by a mother or father is a serious mental disorder and can have severe repercussions on the child’s development. The mental ailment can be a potent cause of extra stressful home environment.
Depression alone itself becomes the cause of arguments that hinder the growth and development of children in the family. Hence, it is strongly recommended that parents must seek medical help after acknowledging it. Early intervention in the form of anti-depressants and talk therapy has the potential to bring a positive change in the family.
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