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Maternal Depression and Risk for the Kids

Abstract: Does a depressive disorder of a mother affect her children?

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Maternal Depression and Risk for the Kids

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Written by: Martin Winkler
First version: 22 Jul 2008.
Latest revision: 01 Aug 2008.

Does a depressive disorder of a mother affect her children?


Having a mother with a depressive disorder (major depression, dysthymia or depressive episodes of bipolar disorder) can double the risk of their children to develop affective disorders in later life.

A recent study showed that 15year old off-springs of depressive mothers have a high risk for a depressive disorder or other psychological problems like anxiety disorder!

There might be a couple of possible reasons for this dramatic result:

  • Affective disorders like depression have a genetic biological vulnerability. If a family member has this trait of depressive or other affective disorders it is more likely that their off-springs are also affected.
  • The mother-child relationship could be affected. The study demonstrated that the severity and duration of the depressive episodes had an influence on the outcome of the adolescents. These children will have to spend more time separated and might develop bonding problems to their mother if she is depressive.
  • Some children of psychiatric patients think, that it is due to their "negative" behaviour or any other personal reason that causes the depression. So they feel guilty and have negative feelings which have a negative influence on their self-esteem.
  • Children of depressive mother have problems to meet friends in their environment. Very often friends or classmates cannot come at home because of the disorder of the mother. This causes additional social withdrawal of the children.
It is of special importance to take care of the children of psychiatric patients and to help them to develop enough competences to prevent a depressive outcome in later life.
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