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Ask the Experts

Question:

How does having a depressed parent affect a child? What can one do to help both the depressed parent and child? Does the kind of treatment the parents receive affect the child?

Answered by: Myrna Weissman

There is considerable evidence that depression in parents has a serious impact on their children. It is not clear if this is genetic or learned, and likely it is both. What is clear is that children of depressed parents, compared with children of non-depressed parents, are more than three times as likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. The nature of the problems varies by the age and gender of the child. For example, teenage girls are more likely to be depressed, prepubertal children are more likely to be anxious, and teenage boys are more likely to abuse substances. The best way to help the parent and the child is to ensure that the parent gets prompt and effective treatment and continues in treatment until free of symptoms. If an adequate trial of medication does not achieve remission, try another one, add psychotherapy, or use psychotherapy alone. The important thing is to achieve remission in the parent. If parental remission of symptoms does not achieve an improvement in the child, seek treatment for the child as well.