How to explain a parent’s depression to a child
“Why is Mom so sad all the time?”
“Why is Dad so grumpy now?”
Having a grouchy, grumpy parent with little energy and an apparent sadness is a family affair. But children in particular need an explanation for depressive behavior..
The illness is much easier for the child to deal with when he/she has received a simple explanation appropriate to age.
Make two points crystal clear to children of all ages:
- Depression can be treated.
- It is not the child’s fault.
Each parent must decide how much information the child is mature enough to handle.
A preschooler would probably understand, “Mommy is feeling kind of sad, like you did when your puppy ran away. She is also really tired a lot like when you are really sleepy. It is not your fault. It is not anybody’s fault.She is going to the doctor now and the doctor will help her get well. But we just want you to be sure you know you didn’t do anything to start this.”
For an older child you might say, “I feel lonely and sad a lot. Maybe like you do when you can’t play with your friend Pat or you have to come home from Granny and Gramps’ house. And sometimes I am really tired, even when I just woke up from a nap. But there is lots that I can do about it like go to the doctor and get medicine and talk to my friends and my doctors. The main thing for you to know is that it is not your fault. It’s no one’s fault. It is like being sick.”
If you are being snappy and grouchy you want to explain that, too. Try saying, “Sometimes Dad just feels angry and picks on you for no reason. It is nothing you did and it certainly is not your fault. I don’t really mean to be so grippey and I am getting help from my doctor.”
Don’t be surprised if one or more children in a family begin to identify with the depressed parent and shows similar symptoms.
Also, try to give the children an established daily routine. It is important for them to have as much stability in their day-to-day life as possible.
Mom’s risk for most types of depression exceeds Dad’s risk by two to one. Mom is also much more likely to suffer from panic disorders, anxiety, and phobias.
In addition the American Psychological Association says mothers of young children are highly vulnerable to depression.
Regardless of where depression strikes, however, it is very important to the children, the family, and the depressed family member to get professional help. It is also important to find a professional who can look at the cause of the depression and the effect it is having on the family.