Harvard Mental Health Letter

Depressed parent, depressed child?

Depression is one of the most common mental health problems in the United States, affecting about one in six adults at some point. About 7.5 million of those affected each year are parents. When a parent is depressed, the likelihood increases that his or her children will develop this mood disorder as well. In the population as a whole, for example, surveys indicate that about 20% of young people develop depression by age 18. In families where one parent is depressed, however, about 40% of youths develop depression by age 20, and 60% do so by age 25. As with other psychiatric disorders (and health problems in general), part of the reason that offspring of depressed parents develop depression is genetic. But psychological factors also come into play. Parents who are struggling with depression may not be able to cope as well as others with the stress of raising children. Or the sheer physical exhaustion that is typical of depression may prevent them from being able to nurture and support their energetic young ones. Recognizing these challenges, researchers and clinicians have been searching for ways to reduce the burden of depression on parents and children alike.
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