Question of the Week

July 13, 2009


While there is still a stigma surrounding depression, people are becoming more aware of it. Many are beginning to accept it as a common health condition that needs treatment like any other.

"Depression is one of the most common health conditions in the world. Depression isn't a weakness, nor is it something that you can simply 'snap out of.' ... It affects how you think and behave and can cause a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may not be able to go about your usual daily activities, and depression may make you feel as if life just isn't worth living anymore. Most health professionals today consider depression a chronic illness that requires long-term treatment, much like diabetes or high blood pressure. Although some people experience only one episode of depression, most have repeated episodes of depression symptoms throughout their life."

Like those with a variety of other health conditions, people with depression can experience an improved quality of life with proper treatment.

"Effective diagnosis and treatment can help reduce even severe depression symptoms. And with effective treatment, most people with depression feel better, often within weeks, and can return to the daily activities they previously enjoyed."

One effect of depression is that it can be difficult for people who are feeling depressed and hopeless to bring themselves to get help. This not only affects their ability to receive an appropriate diagnosis and necessary treatment, it also affects those around them.

"Parental depression can take a serious toll on children, and the whole family should be involved in depression care, according to a new report. That report, issued today [June 10, 2009] by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, estimates that in any given year, 7.5 million U.S. parents are depressed and at least 15 million U.S. children live with a parent who has major or severe depression. ... Depression is a 'major problem that affects a significant number of people' but is 'very treatable,' England tells WebMD. The new report is about how parental depression affects children -- and what to do about it. The new report traces the impact that parental depression may have on children -- starting even before birth."

While it is apparent that children are affected by the health issues facing their parents (including, but not limited to, depression--which is addressed here) the age of the child and the severity of the depression are factors that influence how a child will be affected.

  • "Depressed pregnant women may be less likely to get prenatal care.
  • Depressed moms may be less attentive or less able to respond in a healthy way to their babies' needs.
  • Parental depression has been linked to children's early signs of, or vulnerability to, having a more 'difficult' temperament, including more negativity, less happiness, poorer social skills, more vulnerability to depression, more self blame, less self-worth, and a less effective response system to stress.
  • Older children and teens may experience stress from a depressed parent."

While some parents with depression do realize that their illness is especially difficult for their children, finding the motivation to get treatment can be difficult for anyone suffering from depression.

"The risks to children differ depending on the child's age, notes committee member William Beardslee, MD, of the psychiatry department at Children's Hospital in Boston. ... Most of the research done on parental depression has focused on mothers, especially during pregnancy or when their babies are very young. But parents can become depressed at any age, and depression in dads is also important. 'Fathers are a really critical part of families, and depression in fathers also has an impact on their children.' ... Depression saps energy, which can make it harder for patients to seek help. But 'parents care most about their kids and they want to do the right things for their children, so that's a major motivating factor.'"

While it is not the responsibility of the children to make sure that their parents are okay, older children can feel helpless if they think that there is nothing that they can do. For children and teens (or people of all ages) who think their parents might be depressed, there are things that can be done.

"If you think your parent might be clinically depressed, check the [signs and symptoms]. Depression is one of those things that parents and kids don't often feel comfortable talking about, but it's important to get beyond those the awkwardness and get it out into the open. It's one of those times in life when you might have to act a little like an adult, even though you're still a kid. If you feel like your parent won't listen to you, try to tell another trusted adult, such as a relative or even your school counselor, about what's been going on. Here are some things that you or a trusted adult might want to bring up when talking to your parent about his or her depression:

  • You love him.
  • You want her to get better…for her sake AND yours.
  • This is not about blame.
  • This is not about calling anyone a "bad parent."
  • Doctors and therapists know a lot more about depression than they used to.
  • Treatment can really help a lot, but without therapy, things will probably stay the same or get worse.
  • Life can get better and easier for all of you once they face the problem and ask for help.
Once again, the sooner someone gets treatment, the sooner they can start feeling and acting like himself or herself again."

Questions of the Week:
What can you do if you suspect that one of your parents is depressed? What might be difficult about talking with your parents about depression? What can you do to make the conversation easier? What other trusted adult(s) can you turn to for help?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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