By Dr. David Woo - March 26, 2021
Parenting has its challenges, but it can be even more challenging for parents who struggle with depression. If you have children and also have depression, you’re not alone. Depression affects millions of parents in the US.
Unfortunately, depression can affect a parent’s relationship with their kids, and can increase the risk that their children will also develop depression or another mental illness, like anxiety.(1) How can parents manage depression while also focusing on their relationship with their children? The first step is to notice the signs that you might be depressed.
What are the Signs of Depression Specific to Parents?
In addition to the emotional symptoms that include feelings of despair and worthlessness and lack of motivation, signs of depression in parents may include:
- Engaging in negative parenting behaviors like withdrawal, neglect, and hostility.
- Difficulty with organizational tasks, like getting your kids to school on time.
- Lack of responsiveness to a young child’s cues, like crying or gestures.
Depression is more than just feeling sad. It changes how you think and affects your ability to function on a daily basis. If you recognize symptoms of depression in yourself, ask for help. In order to start treatment for depression, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis.
The most important part of managing depression is to get treatment. Depression is treatable, even when severe. Treatment may include a combination of therapies; for example, antidepressants and talk therapy, or transcranial magnetic stimulation and talk therapy.
Antidepressants are effective in relieving depression symptoms in people with moderate to severe depression and chronic depression.(2) However, antidepressants don’t work for everyone. Approximately one-third of patients who receive treatment for depression with antidepressants won’t see an improvement in their symptoms.(3)
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a medication-free treatment that uses magnetic pulses to electrically stimulate underactive brain cells and relieve depression symptoms. TMS is FDA approved and clinically proven for patients with treatment-resistant depression.(4) It’s an excellent option for patients who’ve found that medication and therapy were not enough to control their depression, as well as for those who couldn’t tolerate the side effects of medication. It’s also safe for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Talk therapy is an important part of depression treatment. Talk therapy helps patients deal with the difficulties of managing depression symptoms. If you’re a parent, your therapist may recommend that your child accompany you for some of your therapy sessions, which is often called two-generation therapy.
Two-generation therapy can help parents and children understand each other’s needs, and help improve a person’s ability to be a parent while managing depression symptoms. The benefits of two-generation therapy can be greater than just having the parent alone in therapy. Research shows that two-generation therapy for parental depression helps children build coping skills and resilience.(5)
Ask for Support and Connect With Others
It’s common for people with depression to want to isolate themselves from others, but isolation makes depression worse and can damage your relationship with your kids. Reach out to family and friends that you feel comfortable talking to and ask for support. Resist the urge to pull away, and reach out to someone you can talk to about how you’re feeling.
Your children may also need someone they can talk to. Consider getting support for your child, either with a counselor or mentor. It’s important for children to have consistent emotional support to help them work through their feelings.
Managing depression is a process. It’s natural to have days that are more difficult than others. The best way to manage depression symptoms is to stick to your treatment plan and find the right support system. To nurture your parent-child relationship, include your child in your treatment, talk to them about how you’re feeling, and help them find the support they need.
1. Lieb R, Isensee B, Höfler M, Pfister H, and Wittchen HU. Parental major depression and the risk of depression and other mental disorders in offspring: a prospective-longitudinal community study. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2002;59(4):365-74. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11926937/. Accessed February 19 2021.
2. Depression: How effective are antidepressants? InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Updated June 18, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK361016/#:~:text=Studies%20show%20that%20the%20benefit,t%20help%20in%20mild%20depression.. Accessed February 19, 2021.
3. Ionescu DF, Rosenbaum JF, and Alpert JE. Pharmacological approaches to the challenge of treatment-resistant depression. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. 2015; 17(2): 111–126. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4518696/. Accessed February 19, 2021.
4. Somani A and Ka SKr. Efficacy of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation in treatment-resistant depression: the evidence thus far. Gen Psychiatry. 2019; 32(4): e100074. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6738665/#d35e44title. Accessed February 19, 2021.
5. Boyd RC and Gillham JE. Review of Interventions for Parental Depression from Toddlerhood to Adolescence. Curr Psychiatry Rev. 2009 Nov 1; 5(4): 226–235. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2932642/#idm139636629563856title. Accessed February 19, 2021.