THURSDAY, Dec. 15 (HealthDay News) -- The recent recession took
a toll on parent-child ties, with parents who were under financial
strain reporting that they felt less connected to their kids and
kids saying they were less likely to act with generosity, a new
Researchers from University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Brigham
Young University analyzed data from a survey done in 2009 and then
again a year later of about 500 families in the Seattle area about
their feelings of depression, economic stress and family
The families were mostly white, middle- to upper-middle-class
and college educated. The children were young adolescents, aged 10
From one year to the next, parents who reported increasing
financial pressure were also more likely to report symptoms of
depression, according to the study. In turn, depressed parents were
more likely to report feeling less connected and less close with
Likewise, parental financial strain and depression also affected
the children. Children whose parents were struggling were less
likely to say they volunteered, helped their friends or their
families, found enjoyment in doing small favors for others, or
tried to cheer up people who were feeling blue -- a group of
positive behaviors researchers call "pro-social behaviors."
"The effects of the economic strain are present and having an impact on families that we consider middle-class and upper-middle-class," said lead study author Gustavo Carlo, currently a professor of human development and family studies at the University of Missouri. "These are families you'd think maybe aren't feeling the effects of the economic crisis in the way that other communities are, or that might have access to resources that other families might not have easy access to."
And the families interviewed were from the Seattle area, which
wasn't even as hard hit during the downturn as other regions of the
country, Carlo added. "One can only imagine how these effects are
being felt by families in areas where the communities have really
suffered tremendously from the economic situation," he said.
The study appears online and in the December print issue of the
Journal of Research on Adolescence.
To be sure, not every parent experiencing economic strain will
become anxious and depressed, said Velma McBride Murry, a professor
of human and organizational development at Vanderbilt University in
"If you enter this situation having an increased vulnerability to depression and anxiety, economic strain elevates it, or sets it off to where you are more likely to experience greater devastation than people who are much more mentally stable," Murry said.
But the current study adds to a large body of evidence that cuts
across income levels and racial and ethnic groups and shows that
economic stress can have a "cascading effect" on the whole family,
Murry said. When under financial stress, parents who are used to
being able to give their children a cellphone or new clothes suffer
mentally when they can no longer do so. As money worries mount --
they're not sure they can pay the mortgage, or the utility bill, or
a medical expense that comes in -- parents can become overwhelmed,
irritable, short-tempered, depressed and withdrawn.
"Then it erodes communication in the family, and reduces the connectedness that parents have with their children," Murry said.
The kids feel it, too, and their attitudes and behavior can also
suffer. Prior research has shown that the kids aren't bothered by
the loss of the material goods -- the new cellphone or the clothes
-- but by the impact it's having on their family, she added.
"Prior studies have found that kids will say, 'it's not the stuff that I miss. I miss my relationship with my parents. That has shifted and the environment in my family has shifted,'" Murry said.
Parents who are feeling economically strained and depressed
should seek out emotional support, whether it's from family and
friends, their church or from a mental health professional, Carlo
"They may have to pay some extra attention to work on the quality of the relationship with their child," he said.
U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more
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