Children of depressed parents: an integrative review

Psychol Bull. 1990 Jul;108(1):50-76. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.108.1.50.


This article reviews the various literatures on the adjustment of children of depressed parents, difficulties in parenting and parent-child interaction in these families, and contextual factors that may play a role in child adjustment and parent depression. First, issues arising from the recurrent, episodic, heterogeneous nature of depression are discussed. Second, studies on the adjustment of children with a depressed parent are summarized. Early studies that used depressed parents as controls for schizophrenic parents found equivalent risk for child disturbance. Subsequent studies using better-defined samples of depressed parents found that these children were at risk for a full range of adjustment problems and at specific risk for clinical depression. Third, the parenting difficulties of depressed parents are described and explanatory models of child adjustment problems are outlined. Contextual factors, particularly marital distress, remain viable alternative explanations for both child and parenting problems. Fourth, important gaps in the literature are identified, and a consistent, if unintentional, "mother-bashing" quality in the existing literature is noted. Given the limitations in knowledge, large-scale, long-term, longitudinal studies would be premature at this time.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Personality Development*
  • Risk Factors
  • Schizophrenic Psychology
  • Social Environment