Q. I’m 21 and recently engaged. In a few years, I may want to have children. I have two concerns: will I have to stop taking antidepressants when I am pregnant and what is the likeliness that our children will be depressed if both myself and my fiancé have major depressive disorder?

A. These are two really good and important questions. With regard to having to stop taking antidepressants while pregnant, this is something that only your doctor can answer. Generally speaking, it is recommended that antidepressants not be taken while pregnant but again, this will depend on your doctor’s opinion of your situation.

As far as passing depression on to your children, the answer is less clear. Since the exact cause of depression has not been pinpointed, this is difficult to answer. Speaking in general terms, parents who have depression are more likely to have children with depression. Whether this is passed down genetically or through environmental interaction is not known but there is an increased risk.

If we look at people who have depression, we recognize that they often display outward symptoms of the disorder. Depressed individuals often are reclusive. They tend to have a negative self-image and low self-esteem. They have difficulty displaying appropriate emotions or dealing with difficult life situations. People with depression are generally sad and overall they have trouble handling everyday life.

If children witness these types of emotions, behaviors and reactions that are being essentially modeled for them by their parents, they are likely to emulate what they see their parents doing. In turn, children may learn these maladaptive ways to handle their own situations by watching how their parents dealt with these similar circumstances. This is one way in which depression could be passed along to children. In this scenario, it’s not done intentionally by the parents but since the parents still suffer with depression symptoms, they have inadvertently modeled maladaptive skills to their children.

It is very wise to be thinking about these issues prior to having children. Since you said that you are thinking about waiting a couple years before you have children, my suggestion is that you use these intervening years to help yourself and your fiancé overcome your depression symptoms. If neither of you are in therapy, this might be something to consider. Medication is a good start to helping your depression symptoms but rarely does medication on its own work to eradicate the disorder. Consider therapy. Thanks for your good questions. Take care.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Feb 2008

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2008). What are the Chances of Passing Depression to Our Children?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 20, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/02/01/what-are-the-chances-of-passing-depression-to-our-children/