Impact of Parental Depression on Child Psychology in Chitral

By Wasim Akram


Depression is a clinical mental illness of sadness, but it’s worse than just a sadness. Depressed people experience extreme lack of pleasure and interest  in their daily life activities, insomnia and excessive sleeping, significantly weight loss, feelings of guilt, low self-worth, and many other symptoms are associated with depression. According to WHO 2012 report ‘‘350 million people worldwide are suffering from clinical depression” But the story doesn’t ends here. My aim in this paper is to highlight how, and why depression subsequently perpetuate down the offspring and impair the life of generations.

Case scenario:

There was a friend of mine who use to be very irritable most of the time. He exhibits very fragile self-esteem and recurrent emotional outburst, anger and hostile behavior most of the time. We always worried why he was behaving in such a way. One day upon asking he told me about his mother condition who suffered from a major depressive disorder and, this had a huge impact on his entire family. He told me that he feels very upset, detached from others, alone, and it becomes very difficult for him to manage his mood and, emotions.

Literature review and, Theory integration:

Western and Eastern literature review reveals a significant impact of parental depression on their child’s physical as well as psychological health. I.e. An International Journal for Obstetrics and Gynecology claims that ‘‘Depression and anxiety during pregnancy greatly affect the growing fetus and causes emotional, behavioral instability when the baby grows up to the age of four years’’ [Onlinelibrary.wiley.com, 2017]

Bowlby Attachment Theory:

Bowlby belied that the earliest bond formed by the children with their care givers have a tremendous impact that continue throughout their life time. The theory says that if the primary care givers are responsive and available to an infant’s needs allow the child to develop a sense of security. The theory further suggest that caring and compassionate mothering is extremely important during the first two years of life to build a sense of security, love and attachment. In this case if the mother is suffering from depression than she cannot develop a relation of compassion and form the attachment which is needed to make a bond with the new born, as a results the child develops a sense of mistrust and insecurity. These child in future would have problem in forming relations with others.

Another cross sectional research study by west al and Newman in 2003 states that ‘‘there is a direct, but diffused relation of parental depression and increased level of behavioral problem in children’’. Along with this different attention, and emotional regulating problem were also identified. [web.b, ebscohost, 2017].In this case we can consider the Bio-psychosocial model by George Engel who says that diseases whether physical or mental are mostly caused by a person’s behavior and attitude toward his life, and a child behavior is greatly influence by their parent. Growing child observe, learn, and imitate from their surroundings, from their environment and from the people with whom   the child is interacting the most, this time the child cannot differentiate between right and wrong at their own, so he/she copy all the deeds good or bad what they observe. Parents with depression can be a poor role model for the growing child and can impact the child health negatively.

Another research article named as parental depression in postnatal period and child development suggest very critical readings such as, they investigated around 8431 fathers, 11833 mothers, and 10024 children for depression they were having during postnatal period and how this impact their children later on. They found that fathers with depression could have adverse effect on growing child, and the outcome was increased emotional and behavioral problems were identified among their children.

Social Learning Theory:

Depression in parents means complete alteration of mood and behavior, and its implication on child and association with the child development becomes very prominent through the social learning theory. ‘Social Learning Theory states that a child can only learn from their surrounding environment and from the people surrounded by’ through the process of imitation and observation. The growing child select a role model and most of the time follow their own parents. Secondly people and environment around reinforce or discourage the adopted behavior through reward or punishment, in this way the personality development continuous to form a physically sound, cognitively intellectual, and socially productive individual. According to social learning theory if the child do not found influential model to follow or starts following the dual personality of their parents (due to disease process) develops an identity crises and role confusion in their later life which can possibly led to an antisocial personality and any mental pathology. The reason is these parents personally suffer from a mood disorder and have an incongruent mood and affect, therefore they cannot positively reinforce culturally and socially appropriate behavior and discourage inappropriate behavior through reward and punishment as mentioned earlier. Thirdly the theory says that the child not only learn from their role model but also try to assimilate the learned information from the rest of the society, to draw a final conclusion. The process of assimilation occurs through the lance of mental schema and to incorporate the new gained information with their previous experiences, again a repeated incongruence in this case can lead to identity crises and role confusion in the child.

Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma states that people with depression and other psychological distresses tend to be more aggressive and they usually target their family and torture their children. A theoretical model based on attachment theory suggest that early year traumas specifically in infancy, and early childhood leads to maladaptive psychosocial behavior.[Tausing and culhane,2010]

The theory further explains that emotional abuse in early child hood and infancy can lead to emotional instability, impulsive attitude, mental distress i.e. anxiety disorder and many others. Child hood emotional abuse continue to influence an individual life later on, adult who acknowledge emotional abuse in childhood reported low self-esteem, interpersonal hostility, and symptoms of depression were also found.[Biffolow,& Morran, 2002]

An article by Shill A Rig 2002 Child hood Emotional Abuse and Attachment says ‘that negative and traumatizing parenting greatly intensify the negative internal human modes such as aggression, anger, cruelty, unforgiving, hatefulness, and capacity of manipulation’.

Causes that make a child of depressed parents more vulnerable to develop clinical depression:

Genetic Vulnerability:

Depression runs in most of the families where 65-75% cases of depression in monozygotic twins and 14-19% among the dizygotic twins have been identified, which clearly indicates the genetic involvement of depression from parents to their children.

Economic Instability:

Along with genetic vulnerability, economic status of the family have a great impact on the child psychology, there we can create a source of hope if the family financial condition is more stable thus reducing the stressors and having approach to a good health facility.

Substance Abuse:

Substance abuse have been greatly associated with psychiatric illness, but in this case with genetic predisposition substance abuse can badly inflame the mental illness symptoms.

Mirin, S. M., & Weiss, R. D. (1991) states that majority individual previously with the history of substance abuse are now suffering from different kind of psychiatric illness.

Psychosocial Factors:

Individual’s psychodynamics play an enormous role, where low self-esteem and maladaptive behavior can make a child more prone to develop depression. Cognitively negative thinking, environmental factors such as diet, and exercise,

Co-morbid, and chronic illnesses are some of the factors which badly deteriorates the condition, however the good news is that these are modifiable factors.

Strategies to Help High Risk Children of Depressive Parents:

As an evidence I have mentioned a lot of physical, psychological and socio-cultural complications, associated with the child of depressed parents, and therefore I consider them as a high risk population. Due to advancement in science of medicine, technology, and cultural anthropology now we have developed different strategies through which we can help these kids to be healthy physically, mentally, and socio-culturally more productive for their families and for the society as well.

Take good care of health.

Manage the stress level.

Watch your diet.

Exercise regularly

Work on positive attitude.

Seek treatment and make a compliance.

Avoid unhealthy attitude.

Join people, make healthy relations, and trust people.


Parental depression greatly effect, influence, and structure life of their child.

Children of depressed parents are considered to be at high risk to develop psychopathology due to the direct involvement of genetics and biological composition. It is the uniqueness of this disease to be directly or indirectly associated with the life of other person, through socio-cultural involvement and genetics. Studies suggests that with depression good parenting is very difficult which eventually leads a bad role modeling, and parenting, making the child more vulnerable to develop anti-social behavior. In this regard several factors have found to be associated as a causative agents, and good thing is that some of them are modifiable to tackle this clinical illness of human mind which have serious complications not only on personal and family life but also down the generation to offspring.

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