Category Archives: Depression

A boatload of links to research on depression in mothers

This week's Parenting Challenge is to be good to ourselves. One of the reasons this is so important is that when we forget to take care of ourselves, to eat properly, get some rest (as much as possible, given the extenuating circumstances of parenting sometimes), to socialize, laugh, exercise, and so on, we are setting ourselves up for serious distress, even depression, and that's problematic for all sorts of reasons. When we are down in the dumps for weeks and months on end, that effects not only our own well-being, it effects how well we parent and connect to our children.

Here's just a smattering of some of the research findings on maternal depression:

  • Children of depressed parents are at increased risk for
    developing aggressive behaviour problems, NOT just through genetic
    transmissions of risk, but through parenting practices that are
    disrupted when parents become depressed (Kim-Cohen, Moffitt, Taylor, Pawlby, & Caspi, 2005).
  • When mothers are feeling depressed, their actual parenting (of course!) is compromised; that's one of the main ways that the depression has an
    impact on children's functioning. Here's a meta-analytic review that
    covers the basics: (Lovejoy, Graczyk, O’Hare, & Neuman, 2000).
    • To summarize the review: depressed mothers are less attentive towards their children
      (Gelfand & Teti, 1990), they provide less consistency and structure
      (Goodman & Brumley, 1990), have pessimistic perceptions about
      themselves (Teti & Gelfand, 1997), and often harshly judge their
      children (Caughy, Huang, & Lima, 2009).

We also know that when you intervene and help alleviate mothers' symptoms of depression, their children's problem behaviours also improve significantly. In fact, some amazing findings have come out recently that have shown that mothers who participated in a prevention program aimed at boosting parenting practices and reducing depressive symptoms not only improved their own mood, but also improved their children's outcomes for over a decade to follow. Not everyone is in need of a formal intervention or prevention program, of course. We know that good ol' social support, exercise and mindfulness meditation can do wonders for alleviating or preventing depression. The obvious implication is that we should be trying to hook up with our friends more, get more "me time", and just generally do what it takes to make ourselves feel whole… as women (and men), not just as parents.

(The obvious RANT I could go on and on about is that it should not be left entirely up to women — and their sometimes helpful friends, family and partners — to deal with the incredible amount of stress that's heaped on mothers. It is a given to me that there should be government-supported / funded programs that can help moms connect with one another, obtain affordable health care, access affordable child care, and so on. No, I will NOT rant… But I could. I'm just sayin').

So… do all those links to hard-core empirical studies convince you to go on out there and try to take care of yourself? What are your biggest barriers to doing so?

You all know I'm not AT ALL trying to make light of this subject, right? For those of you who are feeling depressed or know that you are actually experiencing depression, if you're not already doing so, please reach out to someone that can help. Talk to your friends and family. But also talk to a mental health provider that you can trust (start with a family doctor for a referral if you don't know where else to turn). There ARE ways of making the load lighter, but when you're full-blown depressed, it's so hard to see it, so ask someone to help.

Parenting Challenge #4: Be good to yourself

Ok, I've got one for you. It's a little indirect, in terms of actual parenting practices. But it may just be one of the most important things you can do to improve your own parenting and your child's behaviour: Take some time to take care of YOURSELF. I am not kidding and I am not exaggerating when I say that this really may be one of the most important things you do in your parenting gig.

I have said it before in the context of sleep training: To be good parents, to function with balance, humour, tenderness, understanding and, yes, with authority as well, we need to feel healthy, strong and relatively ok ourselves. So often, parents (mothers in particular) are led to believe that all their needs must be put aside for their child. I'm starting to think that this is one of the most damaging messages sent out to mothers (by the media, but just as damaging, by fellow mothers): that they should feel guilty for working outside the home, for getting that massage, for leaving their child to go to the gym, for stopping for a coffee with their friend WITHOUT bringing the baby <gasp>, and so on. SUCH B.S. is what that is! (and if I wasn't trying to be so damn "professional" on this blog I might say a whole lot more colourful things).

We know how damaging postpartum depression can be: for the woman and her baby and their experience of bonding in the first year of the child's life. And it's not just new moms, far too many mothers in general are experiencing serious symptoms of depression. Maternal depression, as I keep learning in my own work and through a large body of research that I've been reviewing, can have a significant impact on children's health and well-being. In tomorrow's post, I'll review a bunch of this research, to give you a sense of how prevalent maternal depression is and how important it is to try to prevent these problems, if we can.

But for today, let's just see if we can take up this challenge: Try to do one SIGNIFICANTLY "good thing" for yourself this week. This is going to feel almost impossible for some of us and very easy for others (a lot will have to do with the age of your child/children and how much support you have).

  • For those of you still suffering through major sleep deprivation, with a wee one who has just come into this world a few weeks or months ago (or many months ago, for that matter), this challenge may even piss you off: how on earth can you do something nice for yourself when you can't think straight, take a shower, or sleep more than 2 hours in a row?! For those of you in this camp, a few suggestions: (1) Think about the EVENTUAL possibility of sleep-training (even if you're not ready for it yet) and read this to remember that YOUR sleep is integral to your health and well-being and your ability to parent. You can deal with the sleep deprivation now… we all eventually get through it. But don't feel guilty when you and your family are ready for a change. (2) Do something nice for yourself, even if it feels like a tiny thing. This will require you getting some help from your partner, your friend, a family member, a paid sitter… ANYONE. And then choose that ONE thing you really want this week, whatever YOU most want: Take a bath instead of a shower for a whole 30 min, meet a friend for a coffee WITHOUT the baby, get someone to take ONE of the 10 bajillion feedings you do at night and sleep through it with ear plugs, order in your favourite type of food, go shopping for a spring dress, WHATEVER. Just choose that something and follow through with it. You are SO worth it.
  • For those of you with slightly older children who are getting SOME sleep, this is a much more open challenge. What have you been dying to do for yourself but feel too guilty to indulge in? Is it a massage? Take it. An hour or two alone reading a book? DO IT! A date night that you've been meaning to book with the sitter for 4 months? Do it THIS week. A girls' night out without kids? A weekend getaway? Joining the gym and making the committment to go? A movie night alone?  Doesn't have to be a big deal, doesn't have to cost anything… just something within your reach that you will do for yourself.

You get what I'm driving at here. This parenting challenge is meant to get us to PLAN for something, ANYTHING, that will make us feel happy. Of course, this challenge will hopefully be a good thing for many of us personally. But I promise you that this IS important to your parenting as well. You'll see in tomorrow's post: I'll cover the research on the many detriments to children and the challenges mothers face when they do become depressed. For now, let's try to get out of our funk if we're in one, and take care of ourselves.

Tell us: What are you going to do for yourself this week? What are your challenges when you try to take care of yourself? Does this feel doable to you? Does it feel relevant to your life?