What Impact Does Parental Mental Health Have on Children?

No bond is closer than the one between a parent and their child. The biological and psychological ties that bind parents and children are fundamental to a child’s physical and emotional development. Unfortunately, parenthood isn’t as idyllic as pictured on social media or in the pages of glossy parenting magazines. Furthermore, children are sensitive receptors of parental distress — which may stem from such sources as social isolation, economic hardship, divorce, or acute or chronic mental illness — and, as a result, may be vulnerable to developing mental disorders themselves.

Sadly, many children today are in the care of a parent who, at some point, will experience some degree of mental illness. This could be mild, such as intermittent depression or anxiety, or more severe, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Also, the number of households with a parent who abuses drugs or alcohol is rising, negatively impacting children.

Common Mental Health Disorders in Parents and Children

Anxiety Disorders

While everyone has anxiety, in some individuals it can become overwhelming and interfere with daily life. Common types of anxiety disorders include:

● Panic disorders
● Phobias
● Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
● Social anxiety disorder

Genetics and stress are chief among the many factors scientists believe cause anxiety disorders. In addition to outside stresses that may trigger anxiety, studies support evidence that anxiety disorders run in families.


Causes of depression include:

● Trauma
● Genetics — mood disorders and risk of suicide run in families
● Brain structure
● Drug and alcohol abuse

Research has shown that a child whose mother suffers from depression, before or after birth, is four times more likely to develop a psychiatric disorder.

Stresses on Today’s Families

Not only is COVID-19 causing physical health concerns, but it’s also having a significant impact on parental mental health, fueling a rise in stress, anxiety, and depression, among other psychological disorders. Many parents — if they’re lucky enough to still have jobs — are struggling to work from home while overseeing remote learning. Even very young children easily pick up on their parents’ uncertainty and anxiety about the current state of education and the future, which may cause them to become anxious.

Parenting style is yet another factor. Of the four parenting styles defined by developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind, authoritarian (aka disciplinarian) parenting — characterized by being unresponsive, setting strict rules and high expectations, and demanding blind obedience — is associated with mental illness and an increased risk for drug and alcohol abuse in children. By comparison, children raised by a parent or parents who take an authoritative approach to child-rearing –– one that combines sensitivity, warmth, limit setting and the use of positive reinforcement –– are less likely to report depression and anxiety and to exhibit antisocial behaviors.

Together, these and other factors are conspiring to make children less resilient and are hindering their ability to escape the collateral damage caused by a parent’s mental illness. The risk of developing a mental illness or mental disorder is even greater for those children with a genetic predisposition

Link: https://online.regiscollege.edu/blog/parental-mental-health/

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