The facts are startling: the child of a depressed parent is two to three times as likely to be depressed or have an anxiety or disruptive behavior disorder as the child of a parent who is not depressed. Although the treatment for childhood depression has lately been associated with some controversy, treatment for adult depression is well established and effective. That’s good news for depressed parents and their children.

In an article published in the March 22/29 Journal of the American Medical Association , researchers report that children whose mothers successfully treat their depression show improvement in their own depression. And, children who are not depressed are significantly less likely to become depressed if their mothers’ depression is treated, compared to children of mothers who remain depressed.

About the Study

One-hundred and fifty-one mother-child pairs, in which the mother suffered from a nonpsychotic major depressive disorder, participated in the study. One child, aged 7–17 years, was enrolled for each mother. The researchers assessed the severity of the mothers’ depression at the beginning of the study. The mothers then began treatment with the medication citalopram (Celexa). The mothers’ level of depression was assessed again three months after the start of treatment. The researchers evaluated the children for the presence and severity of mood and disruptive behavior disorders at the start of the study and three months after their mothers began treatment.

The rate of depression in the children of mothers whose depression went into remission after three months of treatment decreased by 11%, but increased by 8% in the children of mothers who continued to be depressed. In addition, all of the children whose mothers’ depression was effectively treated, and who were themselves not depressed at the start of the study, remained depression-free at three months. On the other hand, 17% of children who were not depressed at the start of the study, but whose mothers did not respond to treatment, were diagnosed with depression within three months.

How Does This Affect You?

This study demonstrated a striking link between a mother and child’s mental health. Children of mothers who were successfully treated for their depression for only three months were less likely to be depressed and less likely to become depressed than children of mothers who remained depressed.

Depression is characterized by sadness, hopelessness, fatigue, anxiety, and apathy—not an easy set of obstacles to overcome when facing the prospect of seeking treatment. If your own recovery is not enough motivation, the results of this study may spur you to seek treatment for the sake of your children. Discuss your depression with your physician and your child’s pediatrician. Your depression may put your child at risk for a depressive disorder, but treating your own depression can increase your entire family’s chance for happiness.