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South Asian Parents: Effects of Parental Depression on Childhood Development

March 23, 2011 · Leave a Comment

Many South Asian parents are incredibly invested in their children’s futures. Once they become parents, most South Asian men and women put their needs entirely aside to take care of their child. South Asian parents are the epitome of selflessness when it comes to giving love, care, experiences, food, shelter and as high quality a life as they can provide for their growing family.

Given how child-focused South Asian parents are, it is important to realize how the parents’ mental health affects their little ones. Because of the stigma around mental health in the South Asian community, most parents don’t realize that avoiding depression treatment actually has long lasting, harmful effects on their child. So no matter how many opportunities the parents provide their children, how much the parents sacrifice, if the parents have undiagnosed, untreated depression, they are doing the exact opposite of what South Asian parents are all about: being the best parent you can be to your child.

Effects of Maternal Depression on Child Development

depressed-mothersMothers who are depressed when pregnant have a higher risk of preterm birth, pre-eclampsia and miscarriages. Newborns born to depressed mothers are more likely to have low birth weight and gain weight more slowly than newborns born to non-depressed mothers. In addition, these newborns are more likely to be fussy, difficult to soothe and show more stranger anxiety.

Children of depressed mothers are more likely to be depressed themselves. In addition, they have more difficulty regulating their emotions as well as other behaviors (e.g. sleeping, eating, playing, etc.) They also appear to learn skills and process information more slowly as well as show lower cognitive performance. These children show less creative play, a necessary skill for all children to have for healthy development.

Acting out, behavior problems and high anxiety are also seen in children with mothers who are depressed. In addition, research has found a connection between maternal depression and lower IQ scores in their school-aged children. Children are more likely to perform poorly on academic tests, regardless of preparedness, use less expressive language and have poorer social skills. These children are also more likely to complain of more physical ailments and more often visit the doctor than children of non-depressed mothers.

As teens, they are more likely to develop depression if they didn’t as a child, as well as anxiety disorders, and are more likely to experiment with alcohol and other drugs. Behavior problems are frequently observed in children who’s mothers are depressed. Postpartum maternal depression seems to actually cause behavior problems in children and teens and also it causes the mother to be less effective in her disciplining, resulting in more behavior problems as well.

Because mothers tend to be the primary caregivers especially early in life, children of depressed mothers learn poor coping mechanisms and are often insecurely attached to their mothers. Insecure attachment has long-lasting consequences as the child grows. Namely, they are less likely to know how to make and keep close relationships and as adults are more likely to have difficulty finding a life partner and having a healthy marriage.

Depressed mothers are less likely to engage positively with their children. This means they play, read and sing less often to their children than non-depressed mothers. These mothers also tend to have less consistent parenting creating a less predictable environment for the growing child.

Effects of Paternal Depression on Child Development

father depressionPlenty of new research is identifying the strong and influential role that fathers play on a child’s development. In fact, many studies are showing that newborns and infants are very sensitive to their father’s emotions, indicating the importance of the father’s emotional wellbeing.

When fathers experience postpartum depression, similar effects to maternal depression are seen. Fathers engage less often in positive ways with their child. These fathers sing, hold and read to the baby far less often than fathers who are not depressed. Paternal depression is also strongly related to their children experiencing depression and/or anxiety themselves.

Paternal depression is also more strongly associated with a young child’s ability to handle, manage and cope with stress than maternal depression. Additionally, paternal depression is related to an 8 times greater likelihood of child behavior problems and a 36 times greater chance of problems with their peers.

A unique effect on children due to paternal depression is a significantly lower vocabulary when the child is 2 years old than if the father was not depressed. This does not seem to be the case if the mother is depressed instead. In addition. excessive infant crying is significantly associated with paternal depression than maternal depression. This study was conducted 2 months after delivery and showed a strong connection between the father’s depression during the pregnancy in addition to after the birth. Paternal depression is also strongly correlated with father-child conflict, a result that is not seen between mother and child when the mother is depressed. All of these effects were seen independent of maternal depression, indicating that father’s emotions play a strong and large role in child development.

Postpartum depression in both mothers and fathers has very serious and long-lasting effects on a child’s development and must be taken seriously. South Asian parents need to ask themselves whether it is more important to let misinformation about mental health dictate how they address or don’t address their emotional issues or to fight through the cultural stigma, obtain appropriate treatment and do what’s best for their child in the long run.

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