On the surface, it might seem like depression only affects the person who is going through it. But the truth is that this mental health disorder also impacts the family of the people who have it.
In fact, a recent study suggests that children of mothers experiencing depressive symptoms are more at risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts and attempting suicide as adolescents.
The findings of the study were published in the journal Development and Psychopathology, and it suggests that the link may be explained by loneliness.
The study, by the universities of Exeter, Montreal, Laval, and McGill, used data from more than 1,600 families from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development—a representative sample of new-borns in Quebec, Canada, followed from birth to 20 years of age.
Mothers were asked about depressive symptoms, such as sadness and losing interest in formerly pleasurable activities at regular intervals while their children were aged five months to seven years.
The resulting information gave a measure of depressive symptoms—not a clinical diagnosis of depression. Adolescents completed self-reports about suicidal thoughts and attempts at age 13-20 years.
Children of mothers with higher levels of depressive symptoms were approximately 15% more likely to have suicidal thoughts and/or attempt suicide as adolescents compared to children of mothers with lower levels of depressive symptoms.
“We cannot say to what extent this association is due to childhood experiences, genetics, or other factors,” said lead author Dr. Lamprini Psychogiou, of the University of Exeter. “But identifying some of the mechanisms explaining why those children are at increased suicide risk later in life is essential to understand how to prevent suicide among children of mothers with depression,” added Psychogiou.
To this aim, the authors investigated whether feelings of loneliness and social withdrawal reported by the adolescents at age 10-13 years may account for this association. “We found that maternal depressive symptoms in the early years of a child’s life are associated with those children self-reporting elevated levels of loneliness as adolescents, which, in turn, is associated with suicidality,” said Dr. Psychogiou.
“We do know that social relationships in general, and peer relationships in particular, are really important for adolescents. Feeling lonely in early adolescence may influence how one perceives life as being worth living,” added Psychogiou.