Many studies have found elevated rates of problems among children whose parents have psychiatric disorders. Multiple genetic and environmental factors could contribute to associations between child and parent psychopathology. Whatever their causes, these associations raise the question of whether effective treatment of parents’ disorders would be followed by changes in their children’s problems.

To answer this question, Weissman et al. (2006) tested changes in problems reported for children whose mothers received medication for nonpsychotic major depressive disorders. The mothers were participating in the Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) study conducted in 19 clinics throughout the U.S. The mothers initially received citalopram, followed by other medications, if indicated. Weissman et al. evaluated changes in 114 7- to 17-year-olds whose mothers’ depressions either remitted over 3 months of treatment (n = 38) or failed to remit (n = 76). At baseline and 3 months later, the children’s problems were assessed in terms of DSM-IV diagnoses made with the Kiddie Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia (K-SADS) administered to the children and their mothers, plus Internalizing, Externalizing, and Total Problems scores on CBCLs completed by mothers.

Children whose mothers’ depression remitted showed significantly greater reductions in the number of K-SADS diagnoses and in CBCL Internalizing, Externalizing, and Total Problems scores than children whose mothers’ depression failed to remit. The authors concluded that “Remission of maternal depression has a positive effect on both mothers and their children” (p. 1389).

The findings certainly suggest that improvements in parental psychopathology can have beneficial effects on children’s problems. To extend the evaluation of such effects beyond parent-child interactions, it would be desirable to include assessment of children’s functioning in school, as reported by teachers.

Reference: Weissman, M.M., Pilowsky, D.J., Wickramaratne, P.J., Talati, A., Wisniewski, S.R., Fava, M., et al. (2006). Remissions in maternal depression and child psychopathology: A STAR*D report. Journal of the American Medical Association, 295, 1389-1398.