But first a little background… Last year I wrote about the increased risk of autism in the children born to women who take SSRIs for depression. While that is of concern to health professionals, untreated depression is too serious and outweighs that risk. As an alternative, I like to incorporate holistic health treatments and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as often as I can.
Because this is such a serious health concern, I continually monitor for the newest information to share with you. Recently I came across an article in the Science Daily that further enlarges on the topic of maternal depression and its effect on the child’s inability to show empathy, often a hallmark of autism.
The study followed over 70 mother-child parings – 27 with depressed mothers and 45 without. They tracked them for the first 11 years of the child’s life.
They found that maternal depression across the first years of life impacts children’s neural basis of empathy. In children of depressed mothers, the neural reaction to pain stops earlier in the area related to socio-cognitive processing. According to Professor Ruth Feldman, “this reduced mentalizing-related processing of others' pain, is perhaps because of difficulty in regulating the high arousal associated with observing distress in others.”
The way the depressed mothers interacted with their children was crucial to the difference between these two groups. They were less synchronized or attuned with their children and had more intrusive behavior that triggered this reduced empathetic response in their children.
Identifying this depressed mother-child behavior opens the way for more effective interventions at this crucial period in a child’s development. I’m awaiting further results from their ongoing study into the way that maternal care affects the development of a child’s brain, endocrine systems, behavior and relationships.
This new understanding highlights the absolute necessity to treat depression in mothers. The long-range consequences are too serious to ignore. If you or someone you know is suffering from depressive symptoms, please seek help from a mental health professional immediately. There are numerous, effective ways to treat it, with and without medication. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment so we can explore your options.