- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A happy mother is more likely to have happy children, according to University of Texas Southwestern researchers who urge depressed mothers to seek treatment — to help both themselves and their offspring.

“A mother’s depression does affect her kids. When she gets treated and gets better, lo and behold, her kids improve, too,” said Carroll W. Hughes, a professor of psychiatry and one of the 15 authors of the study, which was released yesterday by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers followed 151 mother-child pairs in 19 psychiatric centers nationwide, the first study of its kind to document the positive effects of a mother’s mental recovery on her child.

A third of the children of mothers treated with medication over a three-month period recovered from their own psychiatric symptoms without any additional intervention or medications, a “dramatic” finding that could prompt the medical community to reconsider prescribing antidepressants to youngsters, the researchers said.

The recovery percentage for children of untreated mothers was 12 percent.

Mothers who remained depressed also increased the risk that their children would have a similar disorder. The study found that 17 percent of the children whose mothers went untreated developed psychiatric disturbances by the end of the three months.

“Our findings suggest that vigorous treatment of depressed mothers to achieve remission is associated with positive outcomes in their children as well, whereas failure to treat depressed mothers may increase the burden of illness in their children,” the authors wrote.

“At a time when there are many questions about the appropriate and safe treatment of psychiatric disorders in children, these findings suggest that it is important to provide vigorous treatment to mothers if they are depressed,” they added.

The children ranged in age from 7 to 17 years old, and mothers were studied rather than fathers because the rate of depression is generally higher in women of childbearing age, the researchers said.

“The bottom line message is: ‘Mothers who are depressed, go get treated for your depression. It will help not only you, but your child,’ ” said Dr. John Rush, a psychiatrist and contributing author.

Overall, parental depression presents a two- to three-fold risk of fostering anxiety, disruptive behavior and major depression among children, often beginning early and continuing into adulthood — only to be “transmitted to the next generation,” the study authors stated.

Treating the depressed mother could break the chain.

“These findings are intriguing because they suggest that an environmental influence — for example, the impact of maternal depression remission — had a measurable impact on the child’s psychopathology,” the authors said. “Our studies suggest that a reduction in stress associated with maternal remission may reverse the long-standing symptoms in children who are likely to be genetically vulnerable.”

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