March 9, 2009

Parent depression takes toll on children

A parent's depression results in a child's increased household and caregiving responsibilities and a feeling of loneliness, researchers in Sweden said.

Researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden studied nine families, looking at 11 parents and 10 children and young adults ages 5-26.

Registered Nurse Britt Hedman Ahlstrom said a family's daily life changes and becomes more complicated when a parent is suffering from depression. The children take responsibility for the depressed parent, siblings and themselves when they notice that a parent cannot cope.

The toughest burden of responsibility that children take on is ensuring that the depressed parent doesn't commit suicide, Ahlstrom said in a statement. So children take on an extremely heavy responsibility by monitoring and keeping an eye on the depressed parent.

Even if the depression goes away for a time, the family is never entirely free from anxiety that it might return, the researchers said.

We need a new approach within the health services, in which the focus is on the family's own perspective when a parent is suffering from depression, Ahlstrom said. It's vital to be aware of the whole family's needs in terms of help and support, and not just those of the person who is ill. It's particularly important to be aware of the children's situation.