Children Get Better When Their Moms Feel Better

Helping Depressed Moms Helps her Children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The children of depressed mothers often have behavior problems. Now it's known than when moms feel better, their kids behave and do better, too.

A new study from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center shows that treating moms who are depressed has a very positive and long-lasting effect on her children. The sooner she's treated and the faster she starts feeling better, the sooner her kids start feeling, behaving and doing better.

"Moms who get help for their depression help their children tremendously."

“Depression should not be taken lightly,” said Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern and a co-author of the study. “For kids’ sakes, we should be very aggressive in treating patients, particularly mothers. The more improved care we can provide to depressed mothers, the greater extent we can positively benefit their children.”

Trivedi adds, “It is very rare to treat a patient and have an impact on people around the patient that is this significant."

The study showed that children improved by showing less signs of depression and interacting better with others. The type of improvements seen and how long they lasted were related to the time it took mothers to get better.

  • Children whose mothers recovered from all depressive symptoms within the first three months of treatment continued to show improvements in both symptoms and social functioning more than a year later.
  • If their mothers’ recovery took longer than three months, children a year later showed improvement in depressive symptoms, but not as much in social functioning.
  • Children whose mothers did not respond to treatment did not show improvement at all. Instead, their depressive symptoms increased.

“The take-home message is this: The faster we can get mothers better, the greater impact on their children,” Trivedi said. “When we see a patient/mother with depression, we need to treat them aggressively and fast and get them as close to remission as possible. In the long term, children will have a better outcome than if you take more time to get their mothers better.”

The Study

  • Moms and their children were followed as part of the nation’s largest multisite clinical trial on treatments for depression, begun in fall 1999
  • The STAR*D (Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression) recruited 824 women ages 25 to 60
  • More than 150 mothers and their children, ages 7 to 17, participated
  • Children were evaluated for depression at the beginning of the study and then reassessed after their mothers had been on antidepressant medications for three months
  • Children were followed and reassessed at three-month intervals for up to two years
  • Many kids came into the study with significant problems, including anxiety, depression and/or other disruptive behavior disorders
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 10, 2011
Last Updated:
May 10, 2011