Depression can seem like a very solitary thing. You feel that it is happening only to you -- and therefore you don't like to talk about it much. Maybe to your therapist or a very close confidant - but not to everyone in your life. Especially to those who you want to protect. Your children.
When I speak with people who are suffering from depression and ask them what they have told their children about the way they move in the world - these are some of the responses...
1. I tell them that I don't feel well today.
Problem - Your child will begin to think that you are suffering from a very serious health condition if you continue to tell him/her that you just don't feel well. Their imaginations could run wild, and they could become increasingly worried about you and filled with anxiety.
Solution - Explain to your child that you may not be feeling well today but that it is not a life threatening illness and that you are working towards feeling better.
2. I don't tell them anything. I doubt they notice.
Problem - Don't sell your children short. They notice and absorb a LOT in and around our homes. They know when their parents are not happy and can sense when something is not right. Not talking about your depression may lead to your children believing that this is who you really are - and who that is - is not someone happy (possibly blaming themselves).
Solution - Consider talking to your children about your depression in an age appropriate conversation. You don't have to get into major details if you don't want to, but letting them know that there is something going on with you that they are not responsible for and has the potential to improve -- will go a long way.
3. I don't think it's appropriate to discuss with my children.
Problem - Many of us grew up in environments where a child's place was a child's place! But how did that philosophy really work for many of us? Not that well. We grew up in a state of confusion much of the time. I never understood why my mother was so miserable and non-engaged -- and blamed her for much of it. I was an intelligent child, perhaps if I was given the chance to hear what she may have been going through, I would have been a much more empathetic child.
Solution - Depression is not a death sentence. Like any other disorder or disease, depression should be spoken about in a public forum in order to demystify it and encourage research and new treatments.
4. Why should I burden my child with this.
Problem - You really have to base how you handle talking about your depression with your child on a child by child basis. Different personalities require a different approach. But I would venture to guess that most children are burdened far more with the lack of knowledge and lack of understanding -- then knowing about it. Remember that most children are not equipped to understand on their own that their mommy doesn't want to play with them because she is depressed, instead they will believe that their mommy just doesn't want to play with them.
Solution - That is not the legacy you want to leave. One of disinterest. One of sadness and solitude. Consider giving your children the information they need to understand that your depression has nothing to do with your love for them.
Lisa Angelettie MSW, "GirlShrink" is a psychotherapist, author, and online advice authority. Her site GirlShrink.com is the #1 "Advice & Counseling" site on the web. Please visit us for more discussion on this topic in the depression forum to talk about it further. Don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter for topics in the news, new articles, website & book reviews, and other useful depression resources. Subscribe below.