When a Parent is Depressed

Depression can occur at almost

any phase of life. However, it can have a special impact if it occurs in

the parent of young children.

Postpartum depression is the

best-known form of parental depression. However, depression can strike men

and women at other times too. Depression can make it difficult for a

parent to develop a close, nurturing attachment to a young child. A

depressed parent may be less vigilant about safety issues, or may, on the

other hand, worry excessively about the child’s safety. Depressed

individuals are more likely to feel hopeless and apathetic about

parenting, and thus neglect a child. An irritable, depressed parent might

actually abuse a child. t a child. Depression can sap the parent of the

energy necessary to play with an active child. If the depression leads to

alcohol abuse, family problems multiply.

Children of depressed parents are

more likely to have behavioral problems, learning difficulties, and peer

problems. They are more likely to become depressed themselves. Children

may have difficulty understanding cause and effect. Thus, they may blame

themselves for the parent’s depression, irritability and withdrawal.

Why might parents become

depressed? Some parents are unprepared for the hard work involved in

raising a child. They may be cut off from their own extended family and

lack good parental role models. Childcare duties may cause the parent to

become increasingly socially isolated. With fewer daily adult contacts,

the parent has fewer voices to counter his or her depressive thoughts.

Parents who work outside the home may also experience stress. The dual

demands of work and home may lead to sleep deprivation and exhaustion,

leaving him more vulnerable to depression and medical illness.

Some adults have unresolved

issues from their own childhood. They may have pushed these memories

“under the rug.” Having a child or adolescent may bring back vivid

memories from when the parent was that age.

It is important for parents to

seek treatment for their depression. Once the depression lifts, they will

be able to enjoy their child, bond more closely and empathize with the

child’s emotions. The healing process may involve reaching out to

friends and family for support.

If the parent enters

psychotherapy, it may give him a second chance to resolve issues from his

own childhood. The parent may gain a greater understanding of the

child’s internal experiences when he examines his own. A parent who has

worked through a depression may have special empathy for the child’s sad

or anxious moods.