Parental depression: meaning and agency in family relationships
Children growing up in families where a parent has depression are considered to be at risk for emotional and behavioural problems in childhood and psychopathology in adulthood. Further, families where one parent is depressed have been found to experience more marital discord, stress and higher rates of divorce. There is research about the prevalence of problems in children and families, that discusses models of causation and processes occurring within the family to increase risk. Little is known however, about the experience of the depressed person and other family members in understanding, living and dealing with depression in the family. Using a systemic approach to understand families, this qualitative study explored through in-depth interviews, how individuals suffering from depression and their partners came to understand depression, how it affected their marital relationship and their relationship with their children, and what active strategies parents used to assist their children in managing depression in the family. The findings show that the depressed individual and their partner undergo a similar, but separate process in coming to understand the depressive experience. The findings on the effect of depression on the marital relationship found that depression negatively affects marital communication, emotional intimacy, relationship commitments, and instrumental activities, but that once successfully treated, the act of attempting to deal with the depression as a couple improved some marital relationships. Findings focusing on the parent child relationships indicate depression can have a negative impact on parent child relationships, but that parents use effortful planned strategies to assist their children in managing depression in the family. This study provides new insights into the subjective experience of individuals living with depression in the family. The findings taken together indicate that depression is not just an illness of an individual, rather, that it has a major impact on families. Current treatment and prevention programs need to shift the focus from an individual perspective to more of a family systems perspective.