Groundbreaking research is shedding new light on the importance of treating prenatal and postpartum depression, because evidence suggests children of mothers who suffer from those conditions experience a greater risk themselves.
The psychiatry division of the Journal of the American Medical Association released a study that supports what psychologists have suspected for years -- that children of depressed mothers are more likely to suffer depression themselves in their teenage years.
It's important to note that the study does not prove causation. Rather, it documents a correlation for the first time, and professionals hope it will encourage treating depression in pregnant women.
"Talk about a beautiful segue to early intervention," Cheryl Bemel, an Allina Health psychologist, said. "This is telling us what we had already expected -- that treating mothers either before they are pregnant or during their pregnancy for mood issues, for anxiety issues, can benefit not only the mother, but future generations."
Signs of prenatal depression are similar to general depression:
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of energy
- Not enjoying life
- Thoughts of not wanting to be around
"At times, medication is warranted and appropriate," Bemel continued. "If that's the case, there are medications that are safe to use."
Bemel says it is better to take a preventative approach to mental health issues than wait to treat them at a crisis point in order to prevent the mother and her child from suffering, especially since the study suggests it can become an generational concern.
Treatment aside, the study also supports the belief that the causes of depression can be linked both to nature and nurture.
"We know that when mom is pregnant, the infant is in the womb and swimming in a sea of hormones," Bemel explained.
One such hormone, according to Bemel is cortisol, which can exacerbate depression if a child is exposed to it. The nurture factor becomes relevant after birth.
"Once the child is born, we look at … is the mom able to nurture and bond with her child if she is having a depressive episode," Bemel explained.
The study also found a correlation between postpartum depression and women with lower education levels, suggesting that those mothers may need extra help with coping skills once their children are born.