Treating Teens’ Depression Can Benefit Parents Too

By Victoria Kim 08/14/18

A new study explores how a family member receiving mental health treatment impacts their loved ones.

Mother and sad teen daughter hugging on sofa at home.

Depression touches not only the individual—often, it affects the community around them, too.

For teens, parents are often a significant part of this “community,” and can experience depression second-hand. But when a teen receives treatment, the benefits will ripple through the whole family, according to preliminary research presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association on Saturday (August 11).

The study of 325 American teens and their parents—which has yet to be peer-reviewed and published—analyzed data from a larger 2007 study of how teens living with depression responded to antidepressant drug treatment or cognitive behavioral therapy.

The team observed that regardless of which kind of mental health treatment the teens received, the psychological health of the parents improved as well.

It’s easy to guess why this would happen. The official symptoms of depression include irritability, a lack of energy, anxiety, and loss of interest in normal activities. It’s not hard to see how any one of these symptoms could negatively affect the people around the depressed individual.

“It’s possible that the feedback, the control, and the involvement in the treatment may have been beneficial,” said Kelsey Howard, co-author of the research and a doctoral candidate at Northwestern University. “It could be in how the family is interacting with each other: The kid is more pleasant to be around, the kid is making less negative statements, which can affect how other family members think.”

As one writer noted in Psychology Today, “[Families] contribute powerfully to the emotional atmosphere the depressed person inhabits, and so can be agents of recovery.”

Some treatment professionals say the family’s input is necessary to correctly diagnose depression.

S. Nassir Ghaemi, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, says he’ll ask patients seeking an evaluation to bring in a family member. “Then I ask the family to feel free to call me any time the patient is developing mood symptoms of any variety,” he told Psychology Today.

Ghaemi also uses the family to keep the patient on track with medication, if necessary. With the support of family members, the patient can stay on track of taking his or her medication. And if the family is not on board with the treatment plan, Ghaemi teaches patients how to navigate this challenge.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr