Kids Grades Can Suffer When Mom or Dad is Depressed

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Clinical depression can make family life feel very stressful.

Mental health issues often affect the family unit as a whole. A parent’s clinical depression can lead a kid to develop anxiety, sadness, behavioral problems or health issues – it can even impact their schoolwork. According to a new study, a child’s grades may suffer if they have a mother or father with depression.

It Takes a Village

The findings, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, came from researchers at Philadelphia’s Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University. They looked at data compiled from 1984-1994 on the grades of over 1.1 million children, then compared the mental health status of their parents. They found that, at age 16, kids whose mothers had experienced depression scored about 4.5 points (out of 100%) lower than those with non-depressed mothers. Those whose fathers had experienced depression scored about 4 points lower.


Four or five points “can mean a lot for a student,” says researcher Felice Le-Scherban, epidemiologist at Drexel University. Those points can often drop a grade from an A to a B, or a C to a D. The grade differences can add up over time and may influence whether a student chooses to remain in school or drop out.

The amount and quality of education a young person receives can impact the course of their life for years – even decades. Research shows that people with a higher-quality education are less likely to smoke, drink or be obese. They’re also at a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes than people who drop out of high school or college. Le-Scherban says that education is one of the “strongest predictors of health and life expectancy that we have.”

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Paying the Price

Kids with a depressed parent may struggle in school due to a lack of adequate attention and care at home. Depression might cause parents to miss appointments with teachers, withdraw emotionally, or fail to have the energy to listen or help kids resolve problems.

“Just think about the symptoms of depression—the feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, loss of energy, interest in things that usually give you pleasure,” says Myrna Weissman, epidemiologist at New York’s Columbia University Medical Center. “Think about having those symptoms and trying to take care of children.”

The Silver Lining 

The good news is that depression is treatable. Medication, psychotherapy or a combination of the two are thought to be the most effective. Research shows that treating depression also positively impacts the whole family. One study even found that, while mothers were in treatment, it was beneficial to kids and in a relatively short time.

“At the end of three months, if mom got better, the children got better,” she says. Women who recovered from depression were found to have rejuvenated interest in and engagement with their children and were more capable of expressing love.

Clinical depression is common and affects thousands of adults at some point in life. But the sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you can help yourself…and your whole family.

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