A new study suggests that parents suffering from stress are not only making themselves sick, but may also be making their children sick.
Researchers at the University of Rochester in New York report that the incidence of illness in children with stressed out, anxious or depressed parents was higher than that of children living in happier homes. They also found links between stress and the behaviour of the immune system in children.
It is already known that stress can cause immune system changes, making someone under stress more prone to infections and other illnesses. The new study, however, is the first to suggest immune system changes in a child can be caused by a stressed parent.
The researchers monitored parents of 169 children over a three-year period, during which the parents recorded instances when their child fell ill. The total number of illnesses was significantly higher in the children of parents who suffered from "emotional stress". Additionally, the children's immune cells were measured and the kids with stressed parents had raised levels.
The findings strongly suggest a link between the stress levels of parents and the well-being of children.
While the study shows the children's immune systems were affected by their parents' stress levels, it doesn't confirm whether these effects are long term.
Dr David Jessop, a researcher in stress and health at Bristol University, England, said further studies were needed to measure how these affected children recovered during less stressful periods. "The question is, once this stress is alleviated, do the children's immune systems return to normal or are they scarred for life?"
Putting parents' minds at rest, Dr Jessop concluded, "I believe that children are highly resilient and their systems are sufficiently robust to cope with this".