The negative effects of parental depression cannot be understated. When parents are depressed, they are less able to parent effectively, are less engaged with their children, and are unavailable to provide emotional and physical support. This increases the risk of psychological problems for the children. Family interventions have been developed to address this urgent need, but many focus on either the parental depression or the child/adolescent behavior and do not target both simultaneously. Therefore, W. Mason of the National Research Institute for Child and Family Studies at Boys Town, USA, recently led a study examining the effects of a pilot program that integrated both elements of therapy.
Project Hope was designed to decrease parental depression and increase coping skills in parents and adolescents, therefore indirectly decreasing maladaptive behavior in children. Mason’s study involved 30 at-risk families with adolescent children. The participants were enrolled in Project Hope or a control wait-list condition and were evaluated pre- and post-treatment and again five months after treatment ended. The sessions were conducted in home, and the participants were asked to report on their family structure, depression history and experience, adolescent substance misuse history, adolescent distress, depression, and coping strategies.
Mason found that the participants in the Project Hope fared slightly better than those in the control condition. With respect to family harmony, coping, and family depression, Project Hope participants had significantly better results than control participants. The Project Hope adolescents also had decreases in alcohol consumption that exceeded those of the control adolescents. However, adolescent coping skills and overall behavior did not improve more for one group or the other. Mason believes that the short duration of this study period could be limiting these findings. Because this intervention focused on parental skills and depression, the change that occurred within the parents could eventually impact the behavior and coping strategies of the adolescents, but did not do so in the limited time allotted for this research. “A challenge for prevention studies is to incorporate a long enough follow-up period during which the targeted behaviors of interest are expected to emerge,” said Mason. Until then, this study provides hope for novel family intervention programs like Project Hope.
Mason, W., Kevin Haggerty, Andrew Fleming, and Mary Casey-Goldstein. Family intervention to prevent depression and substance use among adolescents of depressed parents. Journal of Child & Family Studies 21.6 (2012): 891-905. Print.
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