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Children who blame themselves for mom’s sadness may experience depression: Study


PTI, Mar 12, 2020, 5:51 PM IST

Houston: Kids who assume blame for their mother’s sadness are more likely to face depression and anxiety themselves, according to a new study that may lead to new early interventions to prevent these mental illnesses in children.

The study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, suggested that parents, and others who regularly interact with children, pay attention to the kinds of comments that kids make about their mom’s symptoms.

It noted that parents and caretakers should intervene if children incorrectly think it’s their fault that their mom is depressed.

“Although mothers with higher levels of depressive symptoms face an increased risk that their children will also experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, our study showed that this was not the case for all children,” said study lead author Chrystyna Kouros from Southern Methodist University (SMU) in the US.

“Rather, it was those children who felt they were to blame for their mother’s sadness or depression that had higher levels of internalizing symptoms,” she said.

Children who take on this blame can benefit from therapies and interventions that target negative thoughts, according to Kouros.

In the study, the researchers assessed surveys taken by 129 mothers and their children, who were recruited through schools, flyers, and online advertisements.

They said the children included in the study were 13 years old on average.

The scientists asked moms to agree or disagree to 20 statements like “I could not shake off the blues”, and “I lost interest in my usual activities” to assess if they had depressive symptoms, even if they had not actually been diagnosed with depression.

According to the study, nearly 12 percent of the women surveyed were found to have potential clinical levels of depressive symptoms.

The researchers also asked moms to assess whether they felt their children had symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Kids, meanwhile, were asked to complete a total of four surveys to see if they were dealing with any anxiety or depression, and whether they blamed themselves for any signs of depression in their mothers, the study noted.

The scientists said there are two likely explanations for the linkage between mothers’ depressive symptoms, and kids’ own mental health issues.

“If children blame themselves for their mothers’ depressive symptoms, then they may be more likely to brood about their mother’s symptoms. And we know from an extensive body of research that rumination over stressors – especially ones that are uncontrollable – is linked with depression and anxiety,” Kouros said.

“Also, if children feel personally responsible for their mothers’ symptoms, they may try to ‘make it better’ and use ineffective coping strategies,” she added.

Kouros said this could lead to a sense of helplessness, failure, and low self-worth in the child since the kid was wrongly attributing the cause of their mothers’ depressive symptoms.

The scientists said more studies are needed to see if depressed dads have the same effect on their children.

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