Monday, March 12, 2007

"I Never Knew What To Expect"

Feb. 26, 2007 issue - Tammi Landry, 36, loves movies—but not "Father of the Bride." It reminds her of all the ways her own painful childhood didn't measure up. Five years ago, Landry's father, a police officer in Indiana, killed himself. It was devastating for the mother of two young sons, but not a shock. Even as a little girl, she sensed something was wrong. "I never knew what to expect," says Landry, who lives in suburban Detroit. "One day, I'm at the center of his world, and the next day, he could be distant, uninterested. All hell could break loose because I left a towel on the bathroom floor." Landry realizes now that her father suffered from undiagnosed depression. "He was a man, a cop," she says. "There was never any asking for help."
Depressed parents like Landry's father often leave a legacy of fear and anxiety—emotions forged in childhood that can linger a lifetime. Reflecting on her family history after her brother's suicide, Julie Totten, founder of Families for Depression Awareness, realized that her father had been depressed for years. In one recent study at Columbia University, researchers found that rates of anxiety disorders and depression were three times as high among the adult children of depressed parents as they were among people whose parents were not depressed. Adult children of depressed parents also reported about five times the rate of cardiovascular disease—a sign that emotional disorders affect more than mood. Even kids who manage to succeed socially often struggle at home to care for their parents or younger siblings. "Depression has an entire family dynamic," says Myrna Weissman, the lead researcher in the Columbia study. A predisposition to mood disorders may be inherited, and researchers still haven't teased out how much of a child's problem can be traced to genes and how much to growing up with an unstable or unresponsive parent. They do know that even the youngest children are vulnerable. Babies of depressed mothers, for example, are particularly at risk because infants learn to communicate through their mothers' responses. An apathetic mother sets up a child for a lifetime of social and emotional problems.
But thanks to new research, an unhappy ending is not inevitable. Weissman's team found that many children improved after their parents were treated. At the beginning of her study of 151 depressed mothers and their children, about half the youngsters had a history of psychiatric disorders and a third were suffering from mental-health problems. The mothers were all put on an antidepressant. (The kids were not treated as part of the study, but a few were under medical care.) The recovery rate for kids with mental-health problems whose mothers' depression lifted was nearly three times that of similar kids whose mothers did not respond to treatment.
It took Landry years to face her past. After her father's suicide, she and her husband divorced. That sent her into therapy, where she finally got help. She currently takes medication for anxiety and is doing well but, aware of genetic susceptibilities, she watches her 4-year-old son closely."He wants to be good at everything," she says. "He's so hard on himself. I would do whatever it takes to make sure he's OK." She's already doing the most important thing she can do for him: taking care of herself.
With Joan Raymond
© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.

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