How Depression Affects Your Family

Moms who are depressed often suffer in silence — but this common illness can also take a heavy toll on their children. That’s why getting treated is more important than ever.

Missy Nicholson, of Grafton, Massachusetts, had struggled with depression on and off since age 10, but it wasn’t until she became a mother that she realized she wasn’t the only one suffering because of her illness. Three years ago, when Nicholson was pregnant with her second child, she sank into a depression so severe that she spent most of each day in bed. “I didn’t even get up to make my daughter breakfast or see her off to school,” Nicholson recalls. Her daughter, Katherine, then 8, suddenly developed a phobia about going to school.

A social worker linked Katherine’s newfound separation anxiety to her mother’s depression: “She was afraid to leave me alone,” Nicholson explains. When Nicholson started making the effort to pull herself together in the morning and restore some structure to her daughter’s day, Katherine’s phobia disappeared. But recognizing how profoundly her own emotional state was affecting Katherine made Nicholson feel even worse. Indeed, depressed mothers bear a double burden: “You feel awful to begin with,” Nicholson says, “and then you see how your disease is having this terrible impact on your kids.”

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