Research shows that 60 percent of girls whose mothers have suffered from depression will go on to develop depression themselves. Could we help our girls by simply training them to look at happy faces? By changing their negative attentional bias—a tendency to focus on negative images and ignore positive ones— kids may learn to see the world differently.
Jennifer Kahn's Pacific Standard story is currently available to subscribers—in print or digital formats—and will be posted online on Wednesday, March 18. Until then, an excerpt:
Analytical by nature, Mary read up on depression and made an effort to talk about it with her daughters, Ellen, now 15, and Laura, 14. Though Laura had a sunny disposition, Mary fretted about Ellen, who was sensitive and moody. “She’s always been a worrier,” Mary recalled. “Even when she was tiny, buckled up in her car seat, she’d ask, ‘Do you have your keys? Do we have enough gas?’”
Mary had reason to be concerned. Children whose mothers have had clinical depression are at higher risk of developing depression themselves, and girls are considered to be particularly vulnerable; one study has found that more than half of girls with depressed mothers will go on to develop depression themselves.
When Ellen was eight, Mary and her husband, who by then had moved to the Bay Area, separated. Though Ellen had always been reserved, she withdrew even further. “She wasn’t finding a lot of pleasure in stuff,” Mary said. “She took it so hard.” In her reading, Mary came across an ad recruiting girls for a research study focused on preventing depression in the daughters of depressed mothers. She talked with Ellen, who agreed to sign up. “I wanted to do whatever I could to keep her from going through the same thing,” Mary said.
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