I’m usually pretty good at hiding my tears from my kids, but lately I’ve been busted a few times because they come so frequently and don’t go away. How do I respond when my grade-schoolers ask me why I’ve been crying? How do I explain this insidious illness to them? Two years ago I wrote a children’s book devoted to these questions. It’s called, “What Does Depressed Mean? A Guidebook for Children with a Depressed Loved One.” Excerpted from the book, here are seven things that you can say to your child when you’re depressed. Written for a child …
Your Loved One Is Sick
You have probably heard someone say that your loved one is “depressed,” and you wonder what that means. You understand when a friend breaks his leg, or sprains a wrist, or has the flu. But what does it mean when someone’s depressed? Depression is an illness like any other illness. The messengers inside the brain that deliver notes from one side to the other get stuck … kind of like when you are supposed to bring in a permission slip from a parent to your teacher. If the note never got there, your teacher wouldn’t know what to do, right? Depression is the same sort of thing. Messages get stuck, and so the person becomes confused or sad.
Depression Is Invisible
Depression is very weird because it’s visible! It’s like the hidden pictures in those 3-D posters. Unless you wear 3-D glasses, you can’t see them. In the same way, your loved one looks perfectly normal, right? It’s hard to believe that he or she is sick. Try to imagine the depression like the hidden picture in a poster. What you see on the outside isn’t all that is there. It isn’t like looking at an apple and knowing that it is an apple. You can’t see depression with your eyes, but it is still a sickness that needs to be treated.
You Are Not to Blame
When I was a little girl, my mom was depressed and I used to think it was my fault … that she was sad because I wasn’t as good or as smart as she wanted me to be, or that she was disappointed by something that I had said or done. I was sure that I had upset her, but I didn’t know what I did. That wasn’t true at all! She told me so after she felt better. It is easy to blame yourself when someone is depressed, but the illness has nothing to do with you.
It’s Okay to Cry
Did you know that crying is good for you? Like eating a big piece of broccoli or a fresh apple? When you cry, the icky stuff that gets stuck somewhere in your body comes out with your tears! It’s like taking a bath. But instead of cleaning up your outside, it cleans your insides.
Don’t Take It Personally
Sometimes depressed people say things they don’t mean. It’s like when your teacher doesn’t want you to use certain words. You do a pretty good job of that, but then you have a day here and there when you say the words anyway! When people are depressed, they say the words they aren’t supposed to say. But they don’t have a teacher to tell them not to say them anymore. They are frustrated because they feel bad, so sometimes they scream at someone just because the person is in the same room! Try not to take it personally. The depressed person is just as mad because they don’t feel good.
You Are Still Loved
When a person is grumpy, it is easier to think that he or she no longer loves you. Their actions—tears, yelling, grumpy fits—speak louder than their words. It’s hard to remember they still love you even when they are not acting like they do. You are still very much loved by the person who is depressed.
Depression Is Treatable
The very good news about depression is that it can easily be treated! Unlike other illnesses where there is a high chance that the person will never get better, most people who are depressed soon feel better. They may need a few weeks, or maybe even a few months, to take medicine and do other things they need to do to feel better, but it won’t be long before they have as much energy as they did before. There is hope! Lots of hope!
Published originally on Sanity Break at EverydayHealth.com
Thank you once again.
My child’s suffers from depression. Unfortunately it’s not just depression she has collected other unresolved issues. Her unkind behavior has left a trail of issues to deal with. Sitting high aggressively on a pedestal casting stone without batting an eye or feeling has not only caused us pain but has put her in a lonely place. She wont seek help. Any idea what a parent should do?
This is a wonderful list. Thank you so much for it!
This is helpful, I don’t agree however with the blanket statement “here’s the good news – depression is easily treatable and that unlike other illnesses your loved one is likely to feel better soon – I don’t know what the stats are – but there are a lot of people suffering for long periods of time with little or no relief – treatment resistant – and also people with high recurrence – sorry to be a gloomy Gus but if I was to speak to my children about it – and I do – I give them the good news and the bad news – I guess the kids have to be age appropriate – but all the other things on list are great – thanks
I agree Popsie. All the best for your friend who is starting CBT. I find it one of the better therapies amongst all the rest.
I have thought about your comment for a day and all I can say is you are right, but I don’t know how to explain to a kid of a depressed person that his/her mom may struggle throughout her whole life. That seems, well, not right. I found myself telling my daughter last summer that depression is treatable and all will be okay. Do I believe that? I’m not sure.
If I were Katherine I’d be able to understand that ‘depression is treatable and all will be okay’. I may not be able to understand that ‘Mommy may not get better’. I’d find that really scary if I were a kid Katherine’s age. So yeah, speaking from a non-parent you are an outstanding parent.
I think your explanation might be very similar if you had another illness, such as, for example, diabetes. As an adult, you would know that diabetes, while treatable, might still continue to cause you difficulties and increase your chances for certain kinds of harm, but you probably would not explain all those potential complications to your young child.
Thank you. Your essay encourages me to try to make a better explanation to my own child.