development of problems in cognitive and social-emotional functioning. We therefore sought to expand on the typical perspective of parenting with depression to include the prenatal period.
Infants and young children are dependent on sensitive, responsive caregiving in order to develop skills in emotion regulation, interpersonal skills, and stress response mechanisms, problems in any of which may disrupt the earliest stages of development, predisposing children to the later development of depression. Consistent with these understandings, a meta-analytic review identified a larger body of research suggesting that depression is even more strongly associated with parenting problems in parents of infants compared with parents of older children (Lovejoy et al., 2000). Another literature shows that brain development continues at a rapid pace at least for several years after birth (Chugani and Phelps, 1986), and its course of development can be strongly influenced by early life stressors, such as might be associated with having a mother with depression. Thus we were particularly concerned about depression in parents of young children.
Despite compelling reasons for concern about pregnancy and infancy and early childhood, we recognized that they are not the only developmental periods of concern in relation to depression in parents. For example, depressive symptoms and depressive disorder interfere with the tasks of parenting in parents of school-age children and adolescents (e.g., Du Rocher, Schudlich, and Cummings, 2007; Gerdes et al., 2007). Disruptions in parenting associated with depression in parents (e.g., parental withdrawal, intrusiveness, and irritability) are related to higher levels of internalizing and externalizing problems in adolescents (e.g., Jaser et al., 2005). Furthermore, certain aspects of brain development, particularly in the prefrontal regions responsible for executive functions and emotion regulation, continue on into young adulthood and are vulnerable to the effects of chronic stress throughout childhood and adolescence (e.g., Nelson et al., 2005; Romeo and McEwen, 2006). These lines of research suggest that the risks associated with depression in a parent extend well beyond early infancy and early childhood.
Depression rarely occurs in isolation. Depressed adults often face other health problems and psychopathologies (such as substance use disorders, anxiety disorders) and stressful social environments (such as poverty, bereavement, social isolation). Those risk factors may be essential to understanding the problems in children of depressed parents. The associated features also may be essential in identifying approaches to treating parents’ depression and also improving the quality of parenting and children’s