Can Lack of Parental Care Cause Depression?

The definition of child neglect remains broad, with a variety of standards and interpretations of this potentially harmful form of child abuse, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 34. While the long-term repercussions of neglect can be debilitating for some children, even a lack of parental care for a child could be enough to cause symptoms of depression in the child.


When a child does not receive required food, clothing, medical care, shelter or supervision to an extent that the child experiences harm to health and safety, the child experiences neglect, states the Child Abuse and Prevention Treatment Act 34. If a parent’s care for a child does not meet the child’s basic needs, including emotional comfort, maltreatment that qualifies as abuse is occurring, according to the American Psychological Association 1.

Outward Clues

Recognizing and determining a lack of parental care can be difficult, but people who have regular contact with a child can often discern a pattern of clues or indicators that could suggest neglect. Common symptoms include a child’s poor hygiene, lack of weight gain or growth, lack of medical care and a high number of school absences, states the Psychology Today website 2.


A child who has not received adequate care, love and support from parents may exhibit depression and anxiety in response to this lack of parental care or neglect, advises the World Health Organization 3. Although sadness is a common manifestation of depression, this is not the only emotion or behavior that may become apparent. Depression also leads to fatigue, difficulty concentrating, guilty feelings and even risk-taking behaviors such as alcohol and drug use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A child may not sleep well, may not perform well in school, may not get along positively with peers and may even exhibit self-harming behaviors.


Some children may be more likely to suffer symptoms like depression in response to a lack of parental care, according to psychologist Anita Gurian, with the NYU Child Study Center. The younger the child when neglect began, the worse the potential problems may be for the child. In addition, if the child internalizes the neglect and feels responsible for it or if the child had a close relationship with the parent prior to a change in parental care, the child may experience more serious issues.

Long-Range Consequences

If intervention and correction does not occur, a child may experience long-term repercussions from the neglect. The child may grow into adulthood battling depression and anxiety. Eating disorders, panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and even suicide attempts may be issues for the grown child. Some adults also experience intimacy and trust issues in relationships, as well.