Nurture versus nature is a question often bandied about. Is it the environment in which the child is raised, or is it the genetics provided by the biological parents, that most influences what kind of person a child will grow to be?
We have known for a long time that if a parent is depressed, their children are at higher risk for having anxiety, depression, and disruptive behavior. Indeed, the offspring of depressed parents have up to a three-times higher risk of these problems when compared to the children of parents who are not depressed. So, is it because of the environment; or is it genetics?
Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association brings us closer to an answer. It is important to note that the study consisted primarily of mothers with depression, as they are far more likely to report symptoms and come in for treatment than fathers with depression. However, researchers believe that their discovery applies to whichever parent has depression, regardless of whether they are male or female. The results were fascinating: effective treatment of the mother lead to resolution of psychiatric problems in the child.
Study author Myrna Weissman, professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University, said “while depression may be a genetic disorder, [this study showed that] a parent’s illness has a very strong environmental
effect on her child.” In other words, when mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy. Weissman also pointed out “if you have a depressed mother, you ought to do everything you can to get her better, because there’s a double effect that will impact their children.”
I think the message from this research is very powerful, and should be taken to heart by any mother or father. If you as a parent are having psychological trouble, get help and your child will be better for it. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your kids.