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Maternal Depression And Child Development

Moms who are depressed often suffer in silence -- but this common illness can also take a heavy toll on their children. That's why getting treated has become an eternal part.

Millions of children are caught in the web of maternal depression. As many as one in four women will suffer from this biological illness at some point in her lifetime, including about 10 percent of new mothers who develop postpartum depression (PPD). Not only is a child with a depressed parent two to four times more likely to develop depression himself before adulthood, but extensive research has shown that a mother's depression, especially when untreated, can interfere with her child's social, emotional, and cognitive development.

Helpless and Hopeless

People who've been depressed say that it's almost impossible to explain what it feels like. "You become unbearably miserable, lethargic, and incapable of any joy or enthusiasm," says Anne Sheffield, author of Sorrow's Web:

Overcoming the Legacy of Maternal Depression. Depressed moms often hide the way they're feeling because they're ashamed that they haven't bonded with their babies and worry that their children might even be taken away from them. New fathers, who are often overwhelmed themselves, may not pick up on their wives' despair.
In fact, as many as two thirds of all depressed women suffer in silence. Perhaps this is because of the stigma attached to mental illness -- or because mothers are so focused on their families that they disregard their own well-being,

How Kids Are Affected

It can be a tremendous challenge for depressed moms to provide many of the things that children need most -- affection, patience, playfulness, and consistent limit-setting. Not surprisingly, clinically depressed moms are self-critical and indecisive, so that every choice -- from what to make for dinner to how warmly to dress the baby -- can seem overwhelming. But even mild symptoms of depression can affect kids. Children whose mothers have a chronic low-level form of depression known as dysthymia are at risk simply because of the duration of their mom's illness.

Depression Red Flags

At least half of all depressed adults first had symptoms during childhood or adolescence, so parents need to be on the alert for symptoms in their kids too.

The following are signs of both adult and childhood depression:-

  • Prolonged sadness, lasting for more than two weeks
  • Frequent, easy tearfulness
  • Changes in sleep or appetite
  • Loss of energy
  • Inability to take pleasure in former interests
  • Social withdrawal
  • Increased irritability, agitation, worry, or anxiety
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Additional signs in children:-

  • Frequent headaches or stomachaches
  • Chronic boredom or apathy
  • Chronic self-criticism
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • Talk of or efforts to run away from home


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