As a clinical social worker engaged in the practice of child and family therapy, I found the following [excerpted] news item to be more than a little validating, although it nonetheless strikes me as falling under the category of â€œDuh, I Could Have Told Youâ€?:
Researchers say they’ve shown for the first time that treating a mother’s depression can help prevent depression and anxiety disorders in her child, a provocative finding with potentially big public health implications.
The study was small, but the researchers and other experts called it convincing and said it illustrates how important a parent’s well-being is to a child.
“It’s a very dramatic and important finding,” said co-author Dr. A. John Rush, a psychiatry professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Depression runs in families and has a strong genetic component, but environmental factors can trigger it. The study results indicate that for children of depressed mothers, that trigger is sometimes their mothers’ illness acting up, said lead author Myrna Weissman, a researcher at Columbia University and New York Psychiatric Institute.
Effective treatment for mothers could mean their children might avoid the need for prescription antidepressants, the researchers said.
“Depressed parents should be treated vigorously. It’s a two-ferâ€”the impact is not only on them but it’s also on their children,” Weissman said.
In the study, those children whose mothers’ depression disappeared during three months of treatment were much less likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety or behavior problems than those whose mothers did not improve.
The results are “very plausible and very convincing and very useful,” said Dr. Nada Stotland, vice president of the American Psychiatric Association and a psychiatry professor at Rush Medical College in Chicago.
“Our society gives a lot of lip service to how important mothers are but in fact we don’t always appreciate just how profound their effects on their children are,” said Stotland, who was not involved in the study.
While mothers often tend to put their own needs last, this research “is a good argument for them to take care of themselves first,” she said. “It’s a little like putting your own oxygen mask on first on the airplane. If you can’t breathe, you can’t help anybody.”
Now, if we could just ensure that mothers and their children had consistently adequate health care access and coverage and lived in communities that were consistently safe and abundant in resources and services, then weâ€™d see truly remarkable findings. Perhaps that will be the focus of the next NIMH-sponsored study. We shall see…