The L.A. Times ran a not bad article on the affect of depressed mothers upon their children. A selected quotation:
The harmful effects [of a parent’s depression] on children were summed up last year in a report by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. Problems begin early, as the infants of depressed mothers cry more than other babies. They have greater fear of strangers and less tolerance for frustration, according to the report. Starting in preschool, kids with depressed parents are more likely than classmates to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Across all stages of childhood, they have more behavior problems at school and higher rates of depression and anxiety disorders.
By adolescence, children with depressed parents have poorer
social relations than the teens of parents who aren’t depressed, and
they’re more likely to be dependent on alcohol and drugs, the federal
report indicates. Depression in parents also is linked to poorer
academic performance, according to studies in the report.
And some harmful effects of growing up with a depressed parent
appear to linger well into adulthood. A 20-year study following the
children of depressed parents and a comparison sample of kids whose
parents had no mental disorders found that those with depressed
parents suffered about triple the rate of anxiety disorders and
depression by their 30s, were in poorer health than peers and much
more likely to be dependent on drugs and alcohol. The study, believed
to be the longest ever done on kids of depressed parents, was
published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2006.
These effects may not only be long-lasting but also
far-reaching. Serious depression affects about one in five American
parents, and 15.6 million children live with an adult who has had
major depression in the last year, according to government data.
They go a little into theory:
About one in 11 infants has a mother with major depression, according to a research update report last December by Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child. Healthy emotional and brain development depends on a “serve and return” interaction, just like a tennis game. Tots engage parents’ attention, prompting parents to respond with words or facial expressions, which stimulate more infant communication.
If caregivers are withdrawn or hostile, this shuts down the
game and may even alter the architecture of the child’s brain.
Of course long before brain scans gave us terms like “brain architecture” psychoanalysts were onto this stuff by simply listening to their clients. Too bad we needed brain scans to confirm that a non-responsive mother (or father) can especially, in the earliest phases of development, do great damage to the psyche of the infant. That the infant needs to experience itself in a relatively safe environment (Winnicott: good enough mothering) ought to be obvious.
I don’t think I felt all that safe since my mother thought–and I quote–that I am “the devil’s spawn.”