Depression affects the whole family, not just the person suffering the immediate symptoms. These homes are characterized by a sense of sadness and gloom. The environment tends to lack stimulation and fun, and can feel cloaked in misery. If just one parent is depressive, the other may escape a lot and leave the child to cheer up the dysfunctional parent. Depression may be the main topic of the household, and the family members are all a captive audience of the depressed lifestyle. By this, I am not referring to an individual who experiences a sad episode or an episode of grief from loss or injury and works it through. Instead, I’m talking about the depressed person who remains stuck and doesn’t seek treatment.

The dynamic in the family may be characterized by an overwhelming sense of discouragement and hopelessness. The depressed individuals believe that it is impossible to experience happiness and will convey that belief to other family members. These parents are typically unavailable emotionally. The self-images of one or both parents are usually poor, and they see themselves as inadequate and unsuccessful with no hope for change. They may dwell on past events and overlook any positive features of life. They typically possess defeatist and fatalistic attitudes about all matters and in general “expect the worst.” They are the eternal pessimists. The messages to the children are typically that “you are not in control,” “luck has passed us by” and that “no matter what we do things are not improving.” For those affected by this dynamic, there is an entire research base pertaining to pessimism. There is also an extensive research base examining maternal depression and its effects on children’s development.

Here’s another common message pertaining to depression which is handed down to children: “We’re all depressed in this family, it is genetic, and you come by it naturally enough. Go get some medication.” This personality style or family dynamic often instills in the children poor coping strategies, hopelessness and victimization, with poor thinking similar to the thoughts of the depressed individual. The impact of all of this over the lifespan is huge in terms of quality of life. You don’t have to be depressed because your family members were. There are actually few forms of depression that are genetic or that have biological underpinnings.

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