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What are the Chances of Passing Depression to Our Children?

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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?

What are the Chances of Passing Depression to Our Children?

Answered by on -

A.

These are two really good and important questions. I give you credit for taking the time to seek out answers. 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.

According to Psychology Today’s website, “We know that depression runs in families, which implies the influence of particular genes that may render an individual vulnerable to the illness. However, genes are just part of the picture. A child not only inherits genes, he or she inherits a family. Very often families with mental or behavioral disorders are also families in which there exists a considerable amount of dysfunction. That implies the influence of environment as well as genes. Indeed, population studies reveal that depression is more likely to occur in homes where abuse and conflict are persistent. Further research has shown that individuals who come from an environment rife with emotional conflict suffer more severe forms of depression and are less likely to respond to existing medications or treatments. So the next question is: How does this occur? How is it that the experience of the family might become embedded, literally, in the biology of an individual and render them more vulnerable to depression?
What recent research tells us is that – in humans as well as laboratory mice – neglectful or abusive interactions between the parents and the offspring can render the offspring more reactive to the stressors in their environment. Meanwhile, studies in humans show that individuals who are more reactive to stressors in the environment are in turn more likely to develop depression.”

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.

What are the Chances of Passing Depression to Our Children?

This article has been updated from the original version, which was originally published here on February 1, 2008.

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist and Assistant Professor of Social Work and Forensics with extensive experience in the field of mental health. She works in private practice with adults, adolescents and families. Kristina has worked in a large array of settings including community mental health, college counseling and university research centers.

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2019). What are the Chances of Passing Depression to Our Children?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2018/02/01/what-are-the-chances-of-passing-depression-to-our-children/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 20 Jun 2019
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 20 Jun 2019
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