Study Proves That Treating Depressed Mothers Benefits Children

There is a positive trickle-down effect when mothers receive therapy for depression.Good news for mothers and children: New research shows that there is definitely a positive trickle-down effect when mothers receive therapy for depression.

In a world where mental health issues are swept under the rug all too often, new research is showing that mothers who receive therapy for major depression not only significantly improve their symptoms, but have positive impacts on their children as well.

The research was published in Development and Psychopathology and concluded that not only did mothers who received interpersonal psychotherapy for depression lessen their symptoms and become more skilled at parenting, but there was a positive cascading effect for the families of those women as well.

Related: NY ‘Motherhood Center’ Breaks Postpartum Depression Stigma

Lead researcher, Elizabeth Handley of the Mt. Hope Family Center, says that lessening the depression in the mothers of the study ended up also giving improved attachment security for their toddler children as well.

Researchers also found that after the mothers were given interpersonal psychotherapy, they were able to better read and understand temperament cues from their children, which in turn allowed them to parent their children with more efficacy and less distress from their kids.

The study looked at 125 mothers and their own children, and the depression levels and parenting strategies of women post treatment.

Interpersonal psychotherapy is a therapy that focuses on the patient’s symptomatic recovery and helps in resolving interpersonal issues. The women of the study were low-income moms and their average age was 25.

A little more than half (54.4%) of the mothers were African American and several said that they felt that when they were exhibiting symptoms of depression, their children also seemed more agitated and irritable.

Related: U.S. House Passes Postpartum Depression Health Care Bill

Interpersonal psychotherapy lasts approximately 12-16 weeks, and works to shift the mother’s viewpoint of their child. In doing so, mothers learned techniques that may prevent them from using harsher forms of parenting, which often lead to more problematic behavior in children later.

Handley says that the likelihood of depression in low-income mothers is one in four, and prior research has shown that children of depressed mothers are more likely to have cognitive and social skills negatively impacted. She notes that healthy attachment is critical during a child’s first year and a poor attachment may present multiple negative outcomes down the road.

The women in the study, as compared to a control group who did not receive interpersonal therapy, now feel more confident in themselves and their parenting skills, which in turn only means positive things for their children, who will benefit from that confidence and security.

Photo: Steve Snodgrass/flickr

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