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Parents of depressed teens affected by their children

Researchers have investigated how the relationship between parents and depressed teens is affected by treatment length.

The Treatment for Adolescents with Depression Study (TADS) is a study that pays special attention to how parents of depressed teens and their marital and parent-child relationships function during treatment. Some earlier studies found that there was a reciprocal relationship between couples with marital problems and the well-being of their teen children. Yet, it seems like there are little to no studies examining the reciprocal relationship between the conflicts that may occur in spousal and parent-child relations in the long-term. The authors, Howard and colleagues, wanted to examine this bidirectional relationship.

This study was published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. There were 322 clinically diagnosed depressed teens included in the study, whose parents were also involved. Several questionnaires were completed: one examined the strength of the relationship between the parents of depressed teens, one examined the relationship between the depressed teen and one of their parents, and the final questionnaire measured how severe the teen’s depression was. It is important to note that the authors did not examine divorced or separated couples and were limited to only examining the relationship between one parent and the teen during the parent-child relationship or spousal relationship analyses.

The relationship between the parents and their teens seemed to generally be worse depending on how severe the depression was. The reciprocal relationship – how family discourse affected teen depression – didn’t appear to have any strong associations.

Overall, it seemed that spousal relationships were unaffected throughout the treatments for depression of their children, but it seemed to actually get worse in subsequent follow-ups. Less severe depression seemed to mean an improvement in the spousal relationship, but this was only at a specific time point (24 to 36-week follow up). Among other reasons, the authors suggested that this decline in the spousal relationship after follow up may be due to an increase in focus on their child during treatment, which draws attention away from marital relation concerns. During follow-ups, the parents may then begin to have more time to focus on their own marital concerns. This finding has been both supported and refuted in other studies.

The authors suggest that although there is evidence that the general mental health of the child affects other family relationships and vice versa, longer-term studies may be needed to see the true effects of family and marital discourse in families of depressed teens.

Written by Olajumoke Marissa Ologundudu, B.Sc. (Hons)


Reference: Howard et al. Marital and Parent-Child Relationships during Treatment for Adolescent Depression: Child-Driven and Bidirectional Effects. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2019. doi:

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay



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