Parents of young people diagnosed with depression say they need support too

8th July 2015 By: Rose Palmer

“I feel like I can’t do anything and as a mother it’s the worst thing in the world that you can’t help your child.”

Many parents of young people diagnosed with depression feel helpless, and say that they don’t know how to deal with their child’s difficult feelings and behaviours at home. They often feel worried, distressed and guilty, according to new research carried out by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families.

The research, published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, involved 48 parents whose son or daughter (aged 11 – 17 years) had recently been referred to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) in London, and had been diagnosed with depression. The parents were interviewed about their experiences of recognising and responding to their child’s depressive symptoms, and seeking help for their child.

This research provides an insight into the struggles often experienced by the parents of young people diagnosed with depression.

Many of the parents said that they had felt confused about whether the changes in their child’s feelings and behaviours were depressive symptoms or just normal teenage mood swings. Others said that they hadn’t noticed any changes in their child at all and that the diagnosis of depression came as a complete shock. And some parents reported that they had gone into ‘parenting overdrive’ since the start of their child’s difficulties.

Emily Stapley, a PhD student at University College London and the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, said: “Most of the parents voiced feelings of worry, sadness, guilt, or frustration in relation to their child’s difficulties. And many felt helpless about not knowing how to deal with their child’s difficult feelings and behaviours themselves at home.”

She added: “Given how common depression is in teenagers, this is an important issue. Parents of young people with depression could benefit from being given advice from professionals at CAMHS about how to cope with their child’s difficulties at home, information about the symptoms and causes of adolescent depression, and support to handle their own emotions related to their child’s difficulties.”

Overall, the findings indicate that the stress and strain that can be experienced by parents of young people diagnosed with depression is comparable to that of parents of young people with other mental health disorders, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or eating disorders.

The interviews were conducted as part of the Improving Mood with Psychoanalytic And Cognitive Therapies – My Experience (IMPACT-ME) study, led by Dr Nick Midgley. This is a qualitative, longitudinal study tracking the experience of a cohort of young people and their parents taking part in a randomised controlled trial evaluating the effectiveness of three types of therapeutic treatment for adolescent depression (the IMPACT trial). The outcomes of the clinical trial itself are due to be published in the autumn.

The study was published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies.

The study was supported by funding from the Monument Trust for the IMPACT-ME study and Emily Stapley was also supported by her UCL IMPACT PhD studentship funding.

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