Maternal Depression Has Dramatic Consequences for Kids
> 10/18/2007 10:41:33 AM

The effects of postpartum depression on the emotional development of infants have been thoroughly explored in recent years. More severe conditions have received far less attention from the research community due to their relative rarity, but new data summarized in a press release by the Institute of Psychiatry in London indicates that collected clinical data will confirm what common sense suspects: children whose mothers suffer from major mental illnesses in the months and years after giving birth are far more likely to encounter emotional and behavioral problems of their own as they grow older.

Previous analysis revealed that a surprisingly large number of new mothers (up to 35-50%) suffer from, at the very least, minor cases of temporal "baby blues" and that at least one in ten of those cases develops into more pronounced problems, also implying that a considerable portion of those who would qualify for subsequent diagnoses of major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder or some form of psychosis do not seek treatment due to a sense of personal shame or the mistaken belief that such conditions are normal and should be eliminated through willpower and discipline or "toughing it out" for the sake of the baby. This perspective is grossly skewed, as a mother's battles with depression will inevitably extend their influence to her child. Unfortunately, many of the children of women suffering from severe mental health issues are ultimately taken into the care of a third party, an occurrence that both compromises their development and decreases opportunities for related research. Those involved in the mental health community should do all we can to dispel these counter-productive belief systems.

Perhaps the most damaging effect of major depression or psychosis on a young child is an affected mother's resulting inability to connect with her son or daughter on an emotional level. While babies have yet to develop the self-awareness that comes with age, they recognize very subtle emotional cues, from tone of voice to manner of physical contact, and conditions like depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder compromise a mother's ability to read and respond, in turn, to her child. Without this most basic support system, a child will often become more fussy and badly behaved. At 7 years of age, children of women who'd experienced even minor preiods of protracted depression during the first 5 years of life had already demonstrated significantly higher rates of antisocial behavior than their control-group peers. Possible contributors to this trend include a antisocial genetic predisposition handed down from mother to child and a greater likelihood that depressive and antisocial women bear children by antisocial men, but the behavioral manifestations of depression itself clearly play the largest role in determining the future behavioral habits of affected kids. Antisocial behavior is not the only unwanted product of maternal depression: in recent surveys, 3-year-olds whose mothers had been chronically depressed also scored lower on language skills and comprehension tests designed to measure their academic readiness. The reason given by researchers? Chronically depressed mothers were "less sensitive"with their children.

Not only were these children not socially well-adjusted, they were not sufficiently prepared for school either. The importance of seeking treatment is obviously the largest issue raised by this report. Women suffering from major mental illness who do not receive an effective form of treatment cannot be expected to fulfill parenting duties to their full capacity, and an infant's first years have long been deemed the most important predictors of future circumstances and personalities. A mother who suffers from any form of mental illness and does not seek treatment either because she believes that she can do without it, because she fears it to be evidence of her own personal insufficiency  or because she does not believe that her complaints warrant medical treatment threatens her child's well-being just as dramatically as her own. Such women should be reminded that their experiences are extremely common and do not in any way stand in detriment to their character. They should also receive monetary support from their insurance plans, private or public, if they cannot afford such services. The interests of all parties would be better served.

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