As a new mother, one is prone to feelings of loneliness and depression. Some new mothers even struggle to get out of bed, finding it hard to care for their new-borns who desperately need the attention and affections of their mothers. A lot of mothers feeling this way also find that they do not have the support they need to recover and heal. As a result, their new-borns feel the pinch of their mother’s mental illness.
According to a study published in Development and Psychopathology, conducted jointly by researchers at the University of Rochester Mt. Hope Family Center and the University of Minnesota Institute of Child Development, mothers who receive interpersonal psychotherapy after depicting signs of major depression strive significantly better than those who received no help at all and those who received support in the form of the control group, which was merely given community referrals.
Mothers were not the only ones who gained from the benefits of assisted psychotherapy. As the new-borns were the ones experiencing the grunt of the consequences of depression experienced by their mothers, they benefited the most. As did any other children already in the family unit. Not only did the moms become better at parenting—their children improved across a host of important developmental measures.
Treating and ultimately reducing the mothers’ depression and depressive symptoms, researchers discovered, resulted in improved attachment security for their toddlers. Overall, the researchers found that post-treatment the moms in the study became better at reading and understanding their toddler’s temperament, essentially making them better parents. In response to this awareness from their mothers, the toddlers and new-borns became less fussy and angry, making them easier to parent. It’s a cascading effect for the family.
The method of therapy used for cases like these, interpersonal psychotherapy is a time-limited therapy that focuses on resolving interpersonal issues and the symptomatic recovery of the patient. The therapy is highly sophisticated and structured, lasting just 12 to 16 weeks.
The study used a randomized controlled trial of 125 mothers, each paired with her own child, the study looked at reduced maternal depression after psychotherapy and its effect on the children. Study subjects were low-income moms with an average age of 25. The children’s mean age was 13 months at the start of the study, with more than half of the mothers, 54.4 percent, were African American.
A huge part of the improvement is a result of shifting the mother’s vantage point. Moms who view their kids as difficult tend to engage in harsher forms of parenting, which down the road can lead to more problematic behaviour in their children.
Changing the mother’s lens in the way that they see their children is crucial, as the kids then have a positive perspective to build from, then you can set the kids off on a more colourful and light-filled sensory trajectory. Prior research shows that children of depressed mothers are at greater risk for a variety of developmental problems, and establishing a secure attachment relationship with a parent is a critical developmental milestone during the early years of life.
The study showed that an insecure attachment relationship is associated with a whole host of negative outcomes between the child to their mothers. One of the most critical aspects of development within a child’s first year, a healthy attachment makes it possible for children to cope with stressful situations. “They know mom as a secure base from where to explore the world. Without that secure attachment toddlers are more likely to be aggressive, to have conduct problems, and a whole array of negative mental health outcomes.”
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a significant health concern in the U.S., with 13 to 16 percent of the general populace experiencing an episode during their lifetime. Generally, women are more likely to suffer from depression, with the highest rates occurring among women of childbearing age and during the child-raising years. For economically-disadvantaged mothers the likelihood of depression jumps to one in four moms. Besides finding a way to head off likely problems for the children in later life, there is also a personal component, says Handley, herself a mother of two daughters, ages one and five.
Seeing the depression alleviated and seeing moms be more sensitive with their children, more responsive, less impatient and harsh—and seeing the kids respond more positively to their moms, well, that’s the warm and fuzzy of it.
For more information about mental illness