Depression hurts. It can make you feel so many emotions or none at all. It can affect one’s energy level and engagement with others. When a parent has depression, it definitely can impact the family.
If you suffer from depression, please know that this is not intended to call you out or make you feel bad. Depression affects 16.2 million people in the US alone and is one of the most common mental health disorders.
Children of parents who suffer depression may act out, be sad or confused themselves or simply want to understand how to help. It can be hard to know HOW or WHAT to tell children about your mood, but there comes a time when it is necessary to help them understand how you are feeling and give them a way to to process and help you understand their feelings too.
The book, Why Are You So Sad? A Child’s Book About Parental Depression by Beth Andrews, is a great resource for families. Why? I find it to be child-friendly and tackles ways to help children understand what depression is. It also gives children their own tools to understand and talk through their feelings or reactions. The book also points out that if the depressed parent is unable to do something, to seek help from trusted adults.
The book has writing and drawing prompts to help children think through and share their feelings. Below is a peek at how the author helps children realize they may feel many emotions (and that is ok!). The child is asked to draw a picture of how they are feeling or ways they have tried to make things better for their parent. There is space for writing down questions they may want to ask their depressed parent.
The author cautions that the book is not necessarily intended to be used in one sitting but to think of it as a resource to refer to and done in stages. It can be read by or to children with the help of a parent, therapist, or other caring adult.
At its core, the key messages the book is intended to help children understand are:
- Depression is a problem with feelings
- It’s not your fault
- You can’t fix it
- It’s okay to have whatever feelings you have about it
- Your parent still loves you, and you still love your parent
- There are lots and lots of things that you can do to help yourself feel better
It is important to be honest to children about parental depression. If left alone to wonder, children may misconstrue a depressed parent’s actions as being a sign of their not being loved or cared for. The book sensitively illustrates what depression is and how it can make the depressed parent act or behave (“They may not be able to sleep. Or they might sleep all the time and have a hard time getting of bed, even to make your dinner or to play with you”).
The book touches on the fact that depression is TREATABLE through counseling or medication. And while there is nothing the child can do to “fix it”, the book gently frames it so that the child can know that the parent has people, like doctors and therapists, they can turn to for help that can help their parent feel better.
While it can be difficult to have the conversation, being open and honest with children ensures the child receives emotional support. The key messages are helpful whether the parent is suffering from postpartum depression (see my prior post, Postpartum Depression and Motherhood…Need to Get Moms Help!), major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder. The author gives helpful suggestions in the Note to Parents and Other Caregivers section on how keeping explanations clear and child-friendly (“I am going to the hospital, where my doctors and therapists will help me get better so that I can come back home and be my old self again”) and staying away from euphemisms (“going away for a while”). Additional strategies and information include:
- Listen to your child
- Negative feelings are normal
- Affirm your love
- It’s not their fault
- Plan and be positive
- Practice honesty with restraint
- Ask for help to get your kids’ needs met
- The role of the non-depressed parent
- Get professional help
- Risk of depression in the child
The author stresses that children don’t need the details about suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviors.
Whether you yourself are depressed, or have a loved one struggling with depression, this book is a must have book to give children a starting point to understanding the impact of parental mood has on them and the family but provide them hope through providing tools to help them know how to think about and handle their feelings around it.
Read: Helping Children Understand and Cope with Parental Depression by Beth Andrews, LCSW (Mentalhealth.net)
Get your copy here
The book is published by Magination Press and the American Psychological Association.