Addressing parental depression

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Schwartz, C., Waddell, C., Barican, J., Gray-Grant, D., Garland, O., & Nightingale, L. (2010). Addressing parental depression. Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly, 4(4), 1–16. Vancouver, BC: Children’s Health Policy Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University.

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Background: When parents suffer from depression, children can be substantially impacted. These offspring can have an increased risks for social problems, cognitive delays and mental disorders. Consequently, we set out to determine if addressing parental depression can improve children’s outcomes.

Methods: We used systematic review methods to identify randomized controlled trial (RCT) evaluations of interventions aimed at supporting children of depressed parents. Applying our inclusion criteria, we accepted six RCTs.

Results: While the six interventions were highly diverse, ranging a home visiting program for mothers of infants to a group cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) family intervention, most interventions involved both parents and children. Among interventions for young children and their mothers, Clinician Home Visiting improved many aspects of the mother-child relationship, including maternal sensitivity and infant responsiveness. Psychodynamic Therapy and Non-Directive Counselling also both reduced behaviour problems in very young children. Among the interventions for school-age children and their parents, a group CBT family intervention and a group cognitive therapy (CT) program for youth both reduced depressive symptoms. The former also reduced parental depression symptoms and child anxiety symptoms while the latter reduced youth suicidality and improved youth’s overall functioning.  

Conclusions: There are a range of options for helping families when a parent experiences depression. For mothers of young children, it is helpful to focus on parenting skills and healthier ways of viewing themselves as parents. For older children and families, CBT and BT interventions can support children’s mental wellbeing. 

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