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Depression Health Center

Parental Depression Affects 15 Million Kids

Report: More Than 7 Million U.S. Parents Are Depressed; Family Focus Needed for Treatment
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Parental Depression Affects Kids continued...

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," committee member Mareasa Isaacs, PhD, executive director of the nonprofit National Alliance of Multi-Ethnic Behavioral Health Associations, tells WebMD.

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," Isaacs says.

Big Picture Approach

The new report calls for a family focus in treating parental depression that includes parenting skills and attention to children's well-being.

Tiffany Field, PhD, a pediatrics professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, agrees with that approach, though she wasn't on the IOM committee.

"It's critical to look at the whole family," says Field, who studies parental depression. She notes that when a parent is depressed, the children will often become depressed, and then the parent gets even more depressed. "It's like a vicious loop," Field says.

The committee members want parental depression care to be available in several different settings -- not just at mental health clinics or in specialists' offices.

"There are childcare settings, school-based settings ... other community settings where parents may feel more comfortable getting services," Isaacs says. "We feel very strongly that we want to mainstream depression treatment," England says.

The new report also recommends making policy changes and prioritizing research on parental depression. 

"We have a major systems problem," England says. "The system is truly broken, in the sense that we do not focus on families. We focus only on the individual, and if you happen to walk in the right door, then you will get care, but only as an individual."

She and her colleagues recommend that state task forces be formed to make it easier to find parental depression resources. That way, England says, families dealing with depression won't have to spend their scarce energy looking for help.

Read more about parental depression on WebMD's news blog.

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