I spent a lot of time in therapy as a kid, for depression, among other things. On and off until I graduated high school, I’d “hang out” in the doctor’s office, playing Connect Four before begrudgingly consenting to more intense discussions. The effect of these sessions was undoubtedly helpful for me. But one thing my self-involved teen brain never considered was that the treatment could improve my parents’ mental health as well.
Preliminary new research, presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association on Saturday, suggests that it did: When depressed teens go through some version of mental-health treatment, symptoms of depression in their parents lessen. The finding, based on a study of 325 American teens and their parents, points to what might seem obvious in hindsight: Happier kids make for happier parents. It builds upon earlier research showing how mental health can be relational, hinting that mental-health care benefits not just individuals and their family members, but their entire communities.
Of the study’s participating parents, 87 percent were mothers, following a well-established trend of researching moms’ mental health and the effect on their children. An earlier study of 5,303 women, for instance, found that women with depressive symptoms were significantly more likely to have children with behavioral issues and frequent temper tantrums; another study looked at both adopted and non-adopted children, and found that a mother’s depression affected both her adopted and non-adopted kids. (In that study, fathers only impacted the child’s likelihood of developing ADHD, but another study of families in Ireland and the United Kingdom found evidence of a correlation between depressive symptoms in fathers and their offspring.)