While the participation of both parents is critical to the wholesome growth of an infant, the mother plays an even bigger role than the father does. From pregnancy, childbirth, and gestation, the role of the mother eclipses that of the father. Therefore, the physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing of the mother plays a vital role in the development of children right through infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Children brought up by mothers experiencing depression are more likely to have development impairment because their most important caregiver lacks the mental capacity to nurture them. According to England and Sim (2009), depression brings despair to the family and impedes mothers from giving the maternal nurturing that babies need especially in their nascent years. Development may also be impaired by the unfortunate event that children born to depressive mothers receive emotional nourishment from an unstable source that is their mother.
This essay embarks on a comprehensive assessment of the effects of maternal depression on the psychological, mental, and physical growth and development of their children. We shall also evaluate what behavioral effects children brought up by mothers battling with depression may suffer. The essay shall also assess the relief that programs aimed at supporting depression-stricken families brings to these children.
Poorer Physical Health and Wellbeing
Parents are tasked with a greater responsibility than other members of the society are because they are tasked with catering for their own needs as well as those of their children. Even more, parents form a crucial part of a child's growth and development support system. When a parent suffers from depression, their potential human and social capital diminishes greatly, affecting their allocation of time and money resources for the benefit of their children (England & Sim, 2009). With this diminishment in supervisory capabilities often come instability at home, a state of affairs that has serious consequences for their dependents.
A depressed mother is highly likely to neglect such important details as the nutritional uptake of children. Studies show that poor quality of care received by children might be a predictor of maternal depression. Mothers exhibiting depressive disorders often portray child avoidance characteristics. This negligence could have adverse effects on children, especially, when the avoidance occurs at feeding time, an admittedly stressful activity even at the best of times with healthy mothers. Babies are known to be quite stressful, so in some cases the baby might be seen as contributing to the mother's depression. In this case, a negative mother-infant interaction may be born.
Negative mother-infant interactions occur when depressed mothers start blaming their babies of causing their pain and suffering. According to Bagner et al. (2010), the interaction of mothers and their offspring lays the foundation for the children's interactions with the world around them later on in life. Negative relationships may include verbal abuse, neglect, and physical assault at various degrees of severity among others. A disorganized attachment pattern is another anomaly of depressed mothers offering maternal care to their babies. Depression often occurs in spells and episodes, and the mother's interaction with the world around her, including their babies, takes on this haphazard nature. The physical health of babies depends not just on their nutritional intake but also on the alertness of caregivers to detect abnormalities in health and acquire timely intervention.
Lower Cognitive Performance
One of the most important roles of parents is to give their children a baseline of mental support on which their intellectual capabilities is often based. Studies have shown that children are more likely to have high cognitive skills when their infancy was spent in a supportive environment and their parents were actively engaged in helping them sharpen their cognitive skills. The role of the mother in developing the baby's cognitive skills cannot be ignored. In most cases, the mother is the first person with whom the infant gets familiar and on whose guidance their intellectual skills are developed. According to Ammerman et al. (2010), the development of a child's cognitive faculties is stunted when their mother experiences depression in the postpartum period.
Higher Rates of Depression
A child enjoys a close bond with their mother that is formed in vitro and continues through all the early development stages and on to adulthood. When the mother is depressed, a child grows up in an environment filled with depression and is brought up under the care of a parent who constantly experiences episodes of depression. The lack of attention, the incidences of negative mother-infant interactions, neglect, and inattention all lead to a child who is often quite as depressed as their mother and needing psychiatric intervention themselves. On one hand, dysfunctional families are a common idiosyncrasy of a home environment where one parent suffers from depression. On the other hand, a dysfunctional family is the biggest cause for depression among children.
The negative mother-infant relationship early in life also alters the neurobiological constitution of the child's brain and causes them massive stress. Children who experience severe stress early in life in turn suffer from greater susceptibility to depression later on in life. Teens exposed to unpleasant situations during infancy are often more sensitive to stress than their unexposed peers. As a result, the likelihood of them sliding into depression is often greater. Furthermore, the cognition developed between infants and their depressed mothers is much more likely to lean towards depression so that normal experiences stress them out and expose them to the hazards of depression (England & Sim, 2009). So great is the relationship between childhood exposure to stressful situations and depressive environments that psychotherapists examine the relationship between depression in adults and their childhoods to try and establish a link. Among all childhood triggers for depression, maternal depression is the most far-reaching and has the greatest impact on the child's cognitive development and susceptibility to experience stress later in life (Canadian Paediatric Society, 2004).
Program Support for Depressed Mothers
To ensure the continued physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing of children, programs are put in place in various healthcare systems aimed at mitigating the effects of depression on the growth and development of children. One of the most effective is home visitation, a concept that brings health officers right to the affected households in attempts to rot out depression in mothers to avoid it affecting their children. According to Ammerman et al. (2010), home visitations are proven to ameliorate the symptoms of depression in mothers by forming supportive bonds that create a conducive environment for recovery.
Furthermore, home visitations address core issues that affect mothers, and in extension, children, such as mental health issues, domestic violence, alcohol and other addictive substances abuse, among others. Home visitation is a mode of treatment that comes close enough to identify the causes of maternal depression, giving the mothers a greater chance at recovery and children a better chance at enjoying a normal childhood devoid of neglect, negative mother-infant relationships, and the negative side effects of maternal depression discussed in this essay.
In conclusion, maternal depression has such a profound effect on children because mothers play a greater role in the mental, emotional, and physical development of children. Maternal depression was found to affect the physical health and wellbeing of children, lower their cognitive performance, and precipitate higher rates of depression in later life. Home visitations are most effective in dealing with the effects of maternal depression on the growth and developments of children because it takes the caregiver close enough to the source of distress.
Ammerman, R. T., Putnam, F. W., Bosse, N. R., Teeters, A. R. & Van Ginkel, J.B. (2010). Maternal depression in home visitation: A systematic review. Journal of Aggression & Violent Behavior, 15(3), 191-200, DOI: 10.1016/j.avb.2009.12.002.
England, M. J. & Sim, L. J. (2009). Depression in parents, parenting, and children: Opportunities to improve identification, treatment, and prevention. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press
Canadian Paediatric Society (2004). Position Statement: Maternal depression and child development. Paediatric Child Health, 9(8), 575-583
Bagner, D. M., Pettit, J. W., Lewinsohn, P. M. & Seeley, J. R. (2010). Effect of maternal depression on child behavior: A sensitive period? Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescence Psychiatry, 49(7), 699-707, DOI:10.1016/j.jaac.2010.03.012.
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