New research on depression suggests that depressed pregnant women have children who are themselves depressed. Depression is a medical condition that is related to hormones, which is an important reason women are particularly prone to become depressed during pregnancy and postpartum, even if they do not otherwise show symptoms, and it now appears that the hormonal disturbance that causes this tendency also affects the fetus.
This is in addition to the known hereditary component of the mental illness, and it supports the understanding that in many cases, the seeds of mental illness exist before the disease develops or the patient shows any symptoms—a finding with important implications for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. In particular, experts say, it might be particularly helpful to provide intervention and support to the children of depressed mothers in an effort to stop the condition before it starts. The study found that the children of less educated mothers with postpartum depression are more likely to become depressed, and would particularly benefit from intervention.
This is important because, if unchecked, depression can be a lifelong, debilitating condition. In addition to a general lowering of quality of life, the illness can exacerbate physical illnesses. The nearly 8 million diabetics who also have major depressive disorder, for example, have a 20 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and a 50 percent higher overall mortality rate. Depression makes the sort of self-care needed to manage diabetes difficult, and there are known links both between depression and obesity and, in turn, obesity and diabetes; depressed people have lower levels of physical activity, which can prevent diabetes.
Smoking, too is associated with both depression and diabetes, and a study published last month found that treating depression can help people quit smoking. This isn’t, the first suggestion of a link; the antidepressant Wellbutrin has been used for some time as a stop-smoking drug, and depressed people are more likely to smoke. The study found that smokers who are depressed have worse smoking-related medical problems, but that therapy for depression makes it easier for them to quit.