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Science and Research

Counseling Benefits Parents, Too

Support for Parents of Teens With Depression

This article was originally published in Northwestern University News Center. It has been modified for Northwestern Medicine’s content hub, HealthBeat.

Supporting a teen through treatment for depression can take a toll on the whole family. This added stress can impact communication between parents and create tensions that linger if they are not addressed. That’s why parents of teens who have depression can benefit from counseling, too.

About the Research

Depression in teens can affect parents' marital satisfaction according to a new Northwestern Medicine study. Parents often seek mental health treatment for a child who is struggling with depression, but the treatment shouldn’t stop with the teen, suggests the study.

Scientists found that while depressed teens were involved in active treatment, parents’ marriages and parent-child conflict remained stable. Once the teens’ treatment finished, however, parents’ marital relationships tended to suffer.

“Families might be putting their own issues on the back burner while their teen gets help,” says first author Kelsey Howard, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Once the treatment ends, they’re forced to face issues in their marriage or family that might have been simmering while their depressed teen was being treated.”

To address this, Howard and her co-authors recommend that parents of teens who are depressed also have a check-in for their marital relationship.

“Families are interactive, fragile ecosystems, and a shift in a teenager’s mood can undoubtedly alter the family’s balance — negatively or positively,” Howard says.

While adolescent depression is a well known stressor for parents and families, this is one of few studies to examine how adolescent depression impacts family relationships and, in turn, how family relationships impact adolescent depression.

The Bottom Line

The study found that parents of teens who had more depressive symptoms at the end of their treatment experienced more marital problems and more parent-child conflict. Although there is opportunity for additional research, the study suggests parents of teens with depression benefit from a strong support system, which is something for families to keep in mind.

Learn more ways to be in tune with your mental health.

Northwestern Medicine Behavioral Health