Parental Depression

Because depressive disorders are common, primary care providers need to be attuned to the possibility that parents of the children and adolescents they treat may have a depressive disorder.

The potential impact of a parent’s depressive disorder on their child or teen can be significant. For example, maternal depression has been associated with an increased incidence of depression, anxiety disorders, ADHD and disruptive behavior disorders in children and teens, lower self-concept, negative outlook, lower IQ and poorer academic performance.1 The children and teens of parents with depression face an increased risk of mood disorders and psychosocial difficulties throughout their lifetimes, making it especially important that primary care providers consider the possibility of parental depression.

Depressive symptoms in adults, children, and teens are under-recognized and under-treated.2 In families with a depressed parent, the risk that a child’s or teen's symptoms may go unnoticed is particularly high.3 By being aware of this risk and by actively supporting families struggling with depression, primary care providers play a critical role in the treatment of both the parent and his or her child or adolescent.

Key Facts:

  • As many as 12 percent of men and 26 percent of women experience an episode of depression during their lifetime.4
  • Only about one in five individuals with major depression receive treatment in line with American Psychiatric Association (APA) guidelines. Mexican-Americans and African-Americans are the least likely to receive treatment.5
  • Rates of depression in children and adolescents whose mothers are depressed are between 20 percent and 41 percent.2


  1. Goodman, S. H. (2007). Depression in mothers. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 3, 107-135.
  2. Saluja, G., Iachan, R., Scheidt, P. C., Overpeck, M. D., Sun, W., & Giedd, J. N. (2004). Prevalence of and risk factors for depressive symptoms among young adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 158 (8), 760-765.
  3. Beardslee, W. R. (1990). Development of a clinician-based preventive intervention for families with affective disorders. Journal of Preventive Psychiatry, 40 (4), 39-61.
  4. Comer, R. J. (2010). Abnormal Psychology (7th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
  5. González, H. M., Vega, W. A., Williams, D. R., Tarraf, W., West, B. T., & Neighbors, H. W. (2010). Depression care in the United States: Too little for too few. Archives of General Psychiatry, 67 (1), 37-46