Study: Parent Depression Linked to Kids’ Weaker School Performance

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A Swedish study published in JAMA Psychiatry has found that children who have parents who are diagnosed with depression perform worse in school. Researchers found a strong link between parents’ depression and youngsters’ classroom performance, according to senior author Brian Lee of the Drexel University School of Public Health in Philadelphia.

Lee and his colleagues say the fact that mental health issues can affect people other than the person with the condition is not well recognized in the medical community. Many parents or guardians may not be aware that their children are a part of a “vulnerable population.”

Andrew M. Seaman reports for Reuters that prior studies have found that kids who have depressed parents are susceptible to problems with their behavior and emotions, brain development issues, and other psychiatric difficulties. Few previous studies have included measurements of the children’s performance at school.

The researchers used information from over 1.1 million young people in Sweden from 1984 to 1994. Before their children finished school, at about 16 in Sweden, 3% of mothers and 2% of fathers had been diagnosed with depression. When parents received this diagnosis, their children’s grades in school declined. The team noted that the mother’s depression affected their daughters more than their sons.

Lee labeled the link between children’s school performance and parental depression as “moderate.” On a scale of factors that could impact school performance, the team said parental depression measures between parental education and a family’s financial status. A parent’s educational background is one of the most important indicators of educational success for kids.

The data on parents’ depression may be skewed because of under-measurement, say the researchers. They added that there is no data to support the notion that a parent’s depression causes poor performance in school for a child.

Treating the mother or father with therapy or medication has been shown to lessen children’s problems.

“Therefore you should be treating the parents,” said Myrna Weissman, of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry in New York City. “Sometimes you have to treat the children, but you should start with the parents.”

Lee suspects that a parent’s depression could alter children’s home lives, which in turn could cause increased stress that would affect school achievement, writes US News and World Report’s Dennis Thompson.

“Depression is a social disease,” he said. “It doesn’t just affect you. It affects your relationships as well. If there’s strain there, it may affect the child’s academic performance.”

Lecia Bushak, reporting for Medical Daily, says one recent study authored by Fumiko Hoeft, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, showed that mothers pass down mood disorders to their daughters as shown by actual inter-generational effects on the structure of the brain.

A 2013 report found that women who were pregnant and depressed could transfer the illness to their fetuses by way of changing the brain development of the baby. Lee suggests depression screening for mothers before their first pregnancies, along with treatment. He said that depression treatment during pregnancy is both effectual and safe.

It may be that since depression can be inherited, children’s weaker school performance is caused by undiagnosed mood disorders. Another side effect of depression is that mothers who are depressed may also be unable to provide optimal care such as spending a sufficient amount of time nurturing or providing enough breast-feeding periods. These deficits can cause long-term problems with the child’s ability to learn and solve problems, reports Rhodi Lee of Tech Times.