Children have been found to be 'adversely affected' by parental depression, opines a new study conducted by the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
Lead researcher Britt Hedman Ahlstrom has revealed that children take on an enormous amount of responsibility for the ill parent and for other family members.
Depression changes the relationship between a parent and his/her children, since they no longer communicate with each other as they used to.
Moreover, family interplay and reciprocity also decrease. As the depressed parent withdraws from the family, children feel they have been left to themselves.
They take responsibility for both the depressed parent, siblings and themselves, when they notice that the parent cannot cope.
"The toughest burden of responsibility that children take on is ensuring that the depressed parent doesn't commit suicide," said Hedman Ahlstrom, a registered nurse at University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
"So children take on an extremely heavy responsibility by monitoring and keeping an eye on the depressed parent," she added.
For children, the parent's depression means both a sense of responsibility and a feeling of loneliness. The feelings of responsibility and loneliness include a striving and yearning for reciprocity with the parent, and for things to return to a state of normality.
"Even if the depression goes away for a time, the family is never entirely free from anxiety over it coming back. This means that there is a prolonged period of suffering associated with depression," Hedman Ahlstrom said.
Hedman Ahlstrom suggested that health services must help the whole family
Involving the entire family when a parent becomes ill is important, both for the children and the parents. It is essential to have a well-defined level of guaranteed care on how, when and from whom the families will get support.
Psychiatric healthcare personnel meet people suffering from depression at an early stage, and therefore have the opportunity to focus the care on the family, in order to together identify ways of helping the family get through the depression.
"We need a new approach within the health services, in which the focus is on the family's own perspective when a parent is suffering from depression," said Hedman Ahlstrom.
"It's vital to be aware of the whole family's needs in terms of help and support, and not just those of the person who is ill.
"It's particularly important to be aware of the children's situation," she added.