How Depression Affects Your Family

Protecting Your Children

"With the right support, depressed moms can still be excellent parents," Dr. Beardslee says. Here are essential steps to take.

Get professional help. The best thing you can do for your family is to seek treatment -- antidepressant medication, therapy, or both. There is a wide variety of drugs available now, and even if you've tried one before and it hasn't helped or you had unpleasant side effects, a different brand or dose will most likely work.

Count on your spouse (and others). "When Dad is actively involved, it reduces the risk that a child will develop low self-esteem or have problems in school," says David J. Diamond, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in San Diego. Missy Nicholson and Holly Shuman were both fortunate to have partners -- as well as parents and friends -- who took on the lion's share of parenting responsibilities during their bouts with depression. For mothers with PPD, hiring a baby-sitter and other household help, if you're able, can be crucial.

Discuss it with your children. Children are often left out of any discussion of depression, and yet they're forced to live through all the disruptions caused by it, Dr. Beardslee points out. It's crucial that a child understands that he is not to blame. You might say, "I've been crying and yelling a lot, but it isn't your fault. It's because I have a sickness, but I'm getting treatment for it, and I'm going to get better." There's no need to use the word depression with a child younger than 7 or 8. With older children, you can compare depression to a medical illness they're more familiar with. Whatever your child's age, let him know he should feel free to ask questions.

Let kids stick to regular activities. When a child can continue her extracurricular activities and playdates, she'll feel as if she still has some control over her life. If necessary, ask friends or relatives to help with drop-offs or pickups. "As parents see that their kids can still have a normal childhood and a wonderful future, they regain their confidence," Dr. Beardslee says, "and it gives them hope for recovery."

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